The National Ballet of China performs ballet The Peony Pavilion in Edinburgh as part of the Edinburgh International Festival in 2011. Photo: IC
The Guildhall School of Music & Drama recently announced a major new partnership with the Central Academy of Drama (CAD) in Beijing to provide a joint Bachelor's Degree program in Acting Studies for Chinese students.
The course is scheduled to start in September 2016 and is expected to offer 25 students nominated by CAD the opportunity to train for two years at each institution, with those eligible receiving a joint BA in Acting Studies from both the Guildhall School and CAD.
Students will study in Beijing for the first and fourth year of the course and in London for the second and third years. The two-year London program will allow CAD students to follow an equivalent training process to that of the Guildhall's BA Acting students.
Professor Barry Ife, principal of the Guildhall School, told the Global Times, "The focus is on professionalism from the outset, and our students get high-profile experience in near-professional conditions. We have seen the high level of work that is achieved at CAD and are confident that our UK and Chinese students will be working at comparable levels of professionalism."
Ife added that the Guildhall is not aiming to turn Chinese students into English actors, but to give them the opportunity to "explore their own talents and develop their own voice so that they can go back to work in their own industry with an extra dimension of international experience."
Throughout the program students will be provided with support and guidance from both institutions to ensure the training in both continents is as accessible and rewarding as possible.
Alliance of excellence
CAD is China's leading drama school, while the Guildhall School is seen as CAD's peer institution in the UK.
Rated the No.1 specialist institution in the UK by the Guardian University Guide 2014, the Guildhall School is a global leader of creative and professional practice, which promotes innovation, experiment and research. Notable alumni include pianists Chen Sa and Li Chenyin, and actors Daniel Craig (James Bond), Orlando Bloom (The Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean) and Damian Lewis (Homeland).
This program creates a first-of-its-kind theater arts joint-degree between China and UK institutions. It is an alliance of excellence between two top drama schools that share a strong and clear vision for future development. The program is expected to make a considerable impact on a new generation of Chinese actors, directors and playwrights over several years.
"We know that China wishes to develop its performing arts sector and that it wants to engage at a global level. By giving Chinese actors exposure to Western training and performance approaches, we hope to assist this process. At the same time, we want to understand Chinese traditions more fully and, through that, to promote better mutual understanding of each other's cultures,"Ife added.
The Guildhall also wants to extend partnership to other art forms, including music and theater technicians. Next year the Guildhall is scheduled to bring a Shakespeare project to the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing.
With 2015 being the Year of Sino-UK Cultural Exchange, both countries have witnessed frequent collaboration when it comes to the performing arts.
Another recent case in point, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) and the Beijing Film Academy signed a Memorandum of Understanding on 17 December confirming their intention to work together to support greater collaboration between British and Chinese film and television students, and industry professionals.
The newly formalized relationship is part of BAFTA's efforts aim to encourage creative and cultural exchanges between the UK and China. Areas of cooperation are likely to include student scholarships, research and learning events such as master-classes, according to BAFTA.
The establishment of a joint-degree is nothing new when it comes to educational cooperation between China and the UK. However, we can see the new trend of favored subjects moving from business, management and engineering towards the arts.
The increasing number of Chinese students studying art and art-related subjects in the UK reflects the fact that the country's creative and design specialty is very popular among Chinese students.
The UK has a large creative economy and leads the world in design, fashion, music and film. It provides new opportunities and perspectives for Chinese students.
Kevin McCarthy - head of Education and Culture at London & Partners, the city's non-profit promotional organization - told the Global Times, "The number of Chinese studying 'arts and design' has risen a staggering 158 percent over the last five years, with the University of the Arts London (UAL), which encompasses six top art schools, experiencing extremely large rises."
"It indicates that Chinese students are broadening their course choice from traditional subject areas like business and engineering towards creative arts subjects," McCarthy added.
According to statistics from China's Ministry of Education in 2014, the UK holds a leading position as a provider of joint degrees with Chinese institutions. In 2014, there were 200 China-UK dual-degree Undergraduate Programs approved by the Ministry of Education in China.
"We have already seen extraordinary academic exchange between the Imperial College and Huawei working on telecommunications [and] Queen Mary working with the Beijing University of TeleCommunication for the last 10 years. They had 2,000 students graduate in Beijing with Queen Mary degrees. UCL and Peking University are working on archaeology, helping China protect archeological treasures. There are all kinds of strong relationships, and I can only see it getting stronger," McCarthy said.
According to Universities UK, an advocacy organization for universities in UK, the partnership is genuinely equal - students graduate with a degree from both institutions in China and UK, and teaching is split 50/50 between the universities.
The cooperation has expanded from Beijing and coastal cities such as Shanghai, Shenzhen, Guangzhou to inner cities in provinces such as Yunnan, Sichuan and Heilongjiang.
However, challenges are always associated with joint degrees. It takes a lot of effort to establish such programs and continued support over time.
According to ICEF Monitor, a market intelligence resource for the international education and student travel industry, the joint degrees are a valuable contributor to educational mobility and globalization. However, murky regulatory, institutional and market environments work to inhibit the continued growth and success of these programs.