University International Collaborations as a Vehicle for Social Change and Public Diplomacy

This project aims to address two emerging challenges or opportunities facing universities in the new context of global geo-politics. First, universities have often been regarded as key agents in processes of social change and development. The explicit role they have been allocated is the production of human capital and knowledge output to meet perceived social and economic needs. However, to this role may be added–especially during periods of reform and transformation–roles in building new institutions of civil society, in encouraging and facilitating new cultural values, and in training and socializing members of new social elites. So far, research on universities’ role in processes of social transformation and modernization has tended to be circumscribed within a specific national context: focusing on what they ought to do and what is planned for them to do in the landscape of national policy strategies. However, beyond national context, universities have been important in providing a route for the entry of external ideas and experiences into otherwise closed societies, and a repository for national sentiments that could come out of “storage” when time and circumstance permit. There might always be tensions between these “national” and “international” elements that could result in contradictions of identity and purpose within individual universities as well as in the broader society. Research on knowledge networks shows that universities, with their very diverse memberships, are most effective in generating innovation and learning, and facilitating productive “encounters” between global and local knowledge. Essentially, universities possess the comparative advantages that other development actors do not necessarily have, exhibited with (but not limited to) such features as people-to-people exchanges, cross-border knowledge mobility and joint research, which are in turn instrumental in easing the possible tensions between the “national” and the “international” elements. Arguably, the Canada China University Linkage Project (CCULP, 1988-1995) and its Phase II–Special University Linkage Consolidation Project (SULCP, 1996-2001), which fell on a period of pivotal changes in Chinese society, should have an impact on the transition of China’s society and economy, given the fact that they both aimed at maximizing human contacts and multiplying contacts at the thinking level. Based on such understanding, this project attempts to gather some empirical evidence in regard to the partnerships and collaborations between universities in Canada and China, and to examine them through the discourse concerning the social roles of universities derived from their international functioning. Ultimately, we wish to identify new synergies between universities in Canada and China that may now be emerging, and solicit ideas for future directions of university to university collaboration that could be beneficial to social development on both sides, as well as contemporary Canada-China relations.

Faculty Supervisor:

Qiang Zha


Tianyun Hua



Political science



York University



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