China so far has been on the receiving end of the globalization of education, with Western institutions rushing to China to set up shop. Now it's stepping out.
In addition to the emerging Laos campus, there are plans for what may become one of the world's largest overseas branch campuses in Malaysia and an agreement by a Chinese university to explore a joint campus with a British university in London.
"The Chinese government and its universities have been very ambitious in the reform and internationalization of Chinese higher education," said Mary Gallagher, director of the Center of Chinese Studies at the University of Michigan.
"This is partly about increasing China's soft power, increasing the number of people who study the Chinese language and are knowledgeable about China from the Chinese perspective."
Chinese universities historically have offered language lessons in foreign countries but usually to serve the overseas Chinese population. In recent years, the Chinese government has set up Confucius Institutes around the globe to promote Chinese culture and language.
But full-fledged campuses that can confer degrees are a new experiment. China's Education Ministry declined a request for an interview on the issue, saying the effort is too nascent to discuss yet.
The Laos branch of Soochow University, based in Vientiane, is now looking to raise money for a full-fledged campus of 5,000 students, university official Chen Mei said. "The national policy wants us to go out, as the internationalization of education comes with the globalization of economy," she said.
The Laos campus started as part of an economic development zone between the two governments, then continued after the larger project fell through.
China's Xiamen University, based in eastern Fujian province, announced plans earlier this year to open a branch in Malaysia by 2015 and have annual enrollment of 10,000 by 2020. In May, China's Zhejiang University and Imperial College London signed an agreement to explore options for a joint campus, though the scope and funding are still to be spelled out.