How Harvard comes to China

By Liu Dong Source:Global Times Published: 2012-12-17 16:55:06

Professor Arnold M. Howitt speaks to a class at the Shanghai Administration Institute. Photo: Courtesy of the institute
Professor Arnold M. Howitt speaks to a class at the Shanghai Administration Institute. Photo: Courtesy of the institute

Professor Arnold M. Howitt is the Executive Director of the Roy and Lila Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. He has served on a number of national and state advisory panels and you would expect to find him in US state capitals or Washington, advising officials.

But in recent years he has become almost a regular visitor to Shanghai where he lectures senior Chinese government officials. On his fourth visit to the metropolis earlier this month, he spent most of his time with 24 Chinese government officials imparting his knowledge and skills as an expert on public management and emergency systems.

He has become deeply involved in executive education programs for China, serving as faculty chair of China Crisis Management and co-chair of the Shanghai Executive Public Management and China's Leaders in Development programs.

Key personnel

Over the week he stayed here, Howitt and his team from Harvard had been working at the Shanghai Administration Institute lecturing Chinese officials. The "students" on the course had been recommended by their departments as key personnel and most were between 35 and 45 and held mid-level posts.

Howitt and his colleagues shared with the class their views about leadership and strategy, responsive governance and public service delivery through case analysis. They invited the bureaucrats to discuss any practical problems they had encountered at work.

"I was told that many Chinese officials were introverted and did not find it easy to express their feelings," Howitt told the class on the first day.

"But the key of making our lessons helpful for you is the interaction between us, so we encourage everyone to actively participate in our class and share your thoughts."

Beyond his expectations he found the bureaucrats highly motivated and ready to ask the lecturers questions from the very beginning of the course.

Shi Jinxing is the mayor of Chengqiao town, Chongming county in Shanghai. He was looking forward to the opportunity to raise some of his own cases during the course.

"I found many of the cases in the study materials I read beforehand are related to my daily work. I really want to learn how officials in Western countries handle problems like these," Shi said. 

"I felt how highly these students valued the course and this put quite a lot of pressure on us as teachers," Howitt told the Global Times.

Sharing experiences

Howitt stressed that he and the team were not coming to teach Chinese officials how to take care of China's domestic affairs - he was not qualified to do this, he said.

Rather they were there to help them to understand other countries' experiences with issues common to all city managements so they would be able to assess the advantages and disadvantages of various suggestions from China's viewpoint and adopt or adapt for their own goals and situations.

"For example, in Chicago we encountered problems with providing education for children from low-income families - this is similar to the challenge of providing education to migrant workers' children in Shanghai," he said. 

Another speaker at the course was Professor Jorrit de Jong, an adjunct lecturer in public policy and management and academic director for the Innovations in Government Program at Harvard.

An expert on concepts of governance and management that make the public sector more effective, he had studied China's domestic public management problems in preparation for the course. He prepared case studies that related to issues being encountered in China's development including unauthorized buildings in Hong Kong, high school education reform, healthcare for the elderly and handling demonstrations over subway line constructions.

Jong is well aware of the differences between China and Western countries. "Some problems like cigarette smoking will push the cost of medical care up both in China and the US. But in the US cigarettes are manufactured by private companies while in China they are made by government-backed companies. This makes the problem quite different," he said.

"We just tell our students how officials in other countries approach this and the Chinese officials are smart enough to figure out what they are supposed to do," Jong said. "If they sometimes find themselves criticized, we tell them to consider these criticisms, work out what went wrong and how they should change their management. Often they should regard this as a reminder to do better in the future."

Shi Lan, a deputy director with the policy making department of the Shanghai Food and Drug Administration, was one of the students on the course. She told the Global Times that the case studies were very helpful for her work.

Most of her duties involved drafting Shanghai's food safety and risk control policies and regulations. It is a complex affair with more than 75 percent of the city's daily food and raw food supplied being imported.

"Through the problems we share in public management, we learned how Western officials dealt with emergency situations and this was very instructive for me," Shi said.

Study abroad

The links between the Chinese government and US academic institutions offering educational courses date back to 1996 and they have become a regular event since 2000.

Nowadays every year more than 10,000 senior bureaucrats of China go abroad for further education courses which can run for a few weeks or several years in major universities like Harvard.

At the same time more Western academics are coming to China. Howitt has been running public management training courses in Shanghai since 2008. He said through the courses he has a much better understanding of China. "Every government has deficiencies, but I think the Chinese government has made tremendous progress over the past 10 years," Howitt said.

Zhu Hua, the vice principal of the Shanghai Administration Institute, spoke on the first day of the course. "We don't expect one week of tuition will solve all our problems. But helping our officials learn more management skills is the key to all our training. And we believe the experience of learning from foreign educators will play an important role in improving their work."

Posted in: Metro Shanghai

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