Correction: An earlier version of this article listed the campus size at 36 acres. It’s actually 40.
It wasn’t in the plan, but in the end, the offer was just too good to refuse.
Georgia Institute of Technology is lending its brand and educational energy to the creation of a new college campus and institute in China, a joint venture at a physical location which will serve as a sort of Asian hub for a university aiming to raise its profile even further in a fast-growing region.
The new Georgia Tech Tianjin University Shenzhen Institute will be located on a 40-acre greenfield site provided by the city of Shenzhen. A small town until the 1980s, the city was a testbed for some of China’s free-market reforms and has now blossomed into one of its preeminent business and technology hubs. It’s sometimes called China’s Silicon Valley, and companies from innovative startups to multinational giants like Huawei are based there.
While the engineering school has been keen to open collaborative centers on subjects like logistics and engineering in places like Panama and Costa Rica, Tech wasn’t eyeing a full-fledged international outpost.
It does have one now-thriving campus in Lorraine, France, but a few years back it closed a campus in Athlone, Ireland, while retaining the research partnerships that formed its backbone.
“We were not really looking at putting campuses all over the world. In our strategic plan, we said it’s not the priority. We would rather be present at hubs of innovation where things are happening,” said Yves Berthelot, vice provost for international initiatives. “Having said that, the Chinese have been very persistent for several years since we got into Shenzhen to make it worth it for us to put a campus there.”
When the city donated the land and promised new state-of-the-art facilities totaling more than a million square feet, Tech felt the timing was right.
“Let’s face it; they’re paying for everything,” said Dr. Berthelot, who recently returned from an announcement ceremony in Shenzhen also attended by President G.P. “Bud” Peterson. A news release noted that the government is providing land, startup funding and operational subsidies.
Georgia Tech won’t be going it alone, nor will it be building where there is no foundation. The school moved an electrical and computer engineering master’s program from Shanghai to Shenzhen in 2013, and it joined the city’s Virtual University Park in 2014.
The campus is one step further, offering majors in ECE, computer science, industrial design, environmental engineering and analytics. Tianjin University, one of China’s oldest, will send many of its students to the campus for undergraduate programs, which it will administer. Georgia Tech will lend its faculty, expertise and students to the specialized graduate programs that will be its focus.
“They want to make it different from what they have in Tianjin, a little bit more focused on specific technology areas, and work with Georgia Tech to add that flavor,” Dr. Berthelot said of the collaboration with Tianjin.
For Tech, the campus brings the perfect opportunity to increase name recognition to drive recruitment and research collaborations. While it ranks with the Stanfords and MITs of the world, its Asian profile is somewhat less developed, Dr. Berthelot added.
“You really have to grow a strong international brand. That’s very important, so for us to be present and to use our incredible alumni network in China to create opportunities is really the way to go,” he told Global Atlanta.
In the other direction, American students will benefit from a sturdier platform for first-hand study in the world’s second largest economy, as well as from internships resulting from corporate ties already being struck, partly thanks to the campus’s location near the central business district, he said.
“We fought very hard to get that location. Other universities wanted it but we were able to nail that down,” Dr. Berthelot said.
Georgia Tech hosted nearly 6,000 international students in the 2014-15 school year, up 20 percent, according to the newest Open Doors Report from the Institute of International Education.
While no national breakdown was available for the institutions, generally about one-third of foreign students in the U.S. are mainland Chinese, with higher concentrations in advanced programs like those Tech offers at the graduate level. The new campus aims to help the university better connect with those who return to China.
The Georgia Tech Tianjin University Shenzhen Institute aims to enroll 800 students by 2020 and 3,000 students by 2030.
Separately, Georgia Tech continues to operate a joint biomedical engineering degree with Peking University and Emory University.
More than half of Georgia Tech students have an international work or study experience in any of 70-plus countries before they graduate.