University Design Consortium
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Background & Origins

With the support and encouragement of China's Vice Minister of Education, Wu Qidi, Arizona State University and Sichuan University have established a strategic partnership committed to innovation in structure, curriculum, and programs.  ASU's vision of the New American University has a Chinese counterpart in SCU's comprehensive reform efforts. 

The first major collaborative program between the two universities was the China-US Forum on University Design, held in Chengdu, China in 2005, with a focus on social embeddedness and regional economic development.   The University Design Consortium and supported by Sichuan University and Arizona State University, the Consortium has a total of eleven members, six in China and five in the United States.

Universities are transformational forces in society today. Public universities in particular must apply their knowledge and problem-solving capacities to challenges facing their communities. In an increasingly integrated world, however, they must be both locally active and internationally engaged.

To that end, Arizona State University and Sichuan University in China have created a joint University Design Consortium to develop innovative strategies for universities to address the complex issues of the 21st century. Working together and with partner institutions, the Consortium seeks to understand and guide the ongoing evolution of creative organizational and educational models for public universities worldwide.

We look to universities as knowledge entrepreneurs. The Consortium facilitates research on university design and management approaches, builds communications networks among scholars of member universities, and publishes materials that illustrate Consortium findings and discussions.  It convenes university leaders for collaborative work and knowledge exchange, while helping universities around the world to pursue productive one-on-one institutional partnerships in research, teaching, and staff development.

Because of the synergies between the United States and China, the Consortium emphasizes higher educational innovation in these two countries. The Consortium enhances international engagement among universities by encouraging university leaders to share ideas, generate solution mechanisms, and expand mutual understanding. grew out of this initial meeting between Chinese and American university leaders to sustain and expand the conversations initiated during the Forum. 

Many of the same individuals met again in Chengdu in 2006 to explore issues related to 2006 report  Participants in these meetings have become charter members of the Institute with plans for wider participation in the future.

ASU and SCU as the founders of the Institute have established offices in both Arizona and Sichuan to conduct research, share innovative practices, and foster collaboration among institutions committed to new models of higher education.  The Chinese and American project teams are focused on:

  • new organizational designs
  • new kinds of academic programs
  • new ways of interacting with communities
  • new models of teaching, learning, and research


The University Design Institute will explore innovative institutional models for the emerging universities of the 21st century. The Institute seeks to understand and guide the ongoing evolution of innovative organizational models for public universities worldwide. The Institute will facilitate research on institutional design strategies for higher education, enhance communications between scholars of member universities, and publish Institute findings and discussions.

The Institute convenes university leaders on a regular basis and provides a virtual space for collaborative work and knowledge exchange among university presidents, while helping universities around the world to pursue productive one-on-one institutional partnerships in research, teaching and staff development.

Because of the synergies that can be built through collaborative efforts between the US and China, the Institute will initially focus on universities in these two countries.

“Massification” and diversification

The 21st century will see more students seeking to attend tertiary institutions than at any time in world history, and these students come from more varied social, economic and cultural backgrounds than those of any previous generation.  The universities of yesterday are not sufficiently equipped to help these students reach their multiple and varied goals.  Universities must, therefore, both expand (massification) and innovate at the same time.

We must create learning institutions that are flexible, adaptable and diverse in order to approach and understand the complexities of our era, and to seek solutions to the shared challenges we face.


The university system itself has become more global. Students and faculty are internationally mobile and many will scour the globe for the education that best fits their needs. At the same time, communities are turning to their local universities to support local community-building and regional economic development, as well as to develop internationally relevant ideas and science and technology solutions to global challenges Universities cannot, in this environment, afford to be mere imitators, we must all seek to be innovators. University leaders must now more than ever understand and engage the educational systems of other nations as they seek to enhance their own strengths and seek the most effective approaches to university institutional design, planning and management. No university can afford to develop in isolation. The Institute will enhance international engagement among universities in China and the United States by encouraging university leaders to share ideas, generate solution mechanisms and expand mutual understanding.

President Xie Heping meets President Michael Crow

Meeting between Sichuan University President Xie Heping and Arizona State University President Michael Crow in 2006 (from the Sichuan University website)

On  June 2, president Xie Heping met president of Arizona State University (ASU), Mr. Michael Crow at  Sichuan University. They discussed the history and philosophy of their universities.   

President Xie has expressed his thanks for the support and contribution of Arizona State University. China-US Forum on University Design was a great success.  President Xie attributed the success of the forum to the the cooperation of the two universities. 

Although the histories of SCU and ASU are different, there are many similarities between the two universities. First, the two universities are devoted to facilitating local & regional economic and social development, and passionate to run the universities better; secondly, the two universities are dedicated to interdisciplinary study, and want to push the development of humanities and social sciences; thirdly, the two universities see the importance of educational internationalization. 

Mr. Michael Crow says that the two universities are devoted to carry sustainable development, actively participate in and serve the societies, and promote cross-disciplinary development; therefore, they can give full cooperation to many front-edge disciplines. 

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