China cannot be bypassed, so it is worth seizing the opportunities provided by the New Silk Road project and taking advantage of the additional knowledge that Fudan University can bring to Budapest, sinologist Gergely Salát told növekedés.hu. According to the senior researcher at the Institute of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Fudan is much more international than any Hungarian university. Although it is being attacked by many on ideological grounds, students who studied both at Fudan and in Hungary claim that the ideological influence at Fudan is less apparent than in Hungarian higher education institutions.
What do we have to know about Fudan University? What is its international recognition like and in what areas is it at the forefront?
Fudan is a world-class educational institution like no other in Central and Eastern Europe, and only a few in the western part of the continent as well. In international rankings it is ranked somewhere between the 30th and 100th best universities. The standard of education at Fudan is generally high, but its courses in international studies, as well as engineering and economics are those that are considered to be the most outstanding.
It was founded a hundred years ago, on the model of Western universities, and it follows the structure of Anglo-Saxon universities.
Of the three thousand Chinese universities, Shanghai-based Fudan is third behind Peking University and Tsinghua University, both based in Beijing.
Does Fudan have cooperation agreements elsewhere in Europe?
Fudan has not yet opened a campus anywhere in Europe, nor does it have any such relations anywhere else in the world. However, there are plenty of examples of collaboration, as over the past thirty years, Fudan, just like many other Chinese universities, have developed diverse relations with the world’s leading universities, a fact we tend to forget about in the ‘Cold War atmosphere’ of recent years. It has some kind of exchange programs with one hundred and thirty universities in thirty different countries, with Yale, Harvard or major German universities, just to mention a few.
In short, Fudan is much more international than any Hungarian university. Although it is being attacked by many on ideological grounds, according to my students who studied both at Fudan and in Hungary the ideological influence at Fudan is less apparent than in Hungarian higher education institutions.
Many foreign students attend Fudan University, but the proportion of foreign lecturers is still much lower than at large Western universities.
Is there any kind of cooperation between Hungarian universities and Fudan? Are there Hungarian students studying there?
For a few years now, Corvinus University has been running a joint course with Fudan, and some kind of cooperation is currently being developed at ELTE and SOTE, probably with the intention of preparing for the future Fudan project in Budapest. And many Hungarian students travel to China on scholarships, an average of one hundred people a year, many of whom choose Fudan.
What is the benefit of Fudan coming to Budapest? How many Hungarian students can attend their courses?
According to the plans that have been disclosed, they are counting on 5000-6000 students. One third of these will be Chinese, another third other foreign nationals and the remaining one third will be Hungarian students.
Few people know, but the vast majority of young people graduating from elite Hungarian grammar schools continue their studies at Western universities, so they are lost to the country. Fudan can certainly have a positive effect on the Hungarian higher education system by providing some of these talented young people an opportunity to do courses in English at a world-class university in Hungary.
It should also be noted that Fudan is an expensive university that is not set up for mass training.
For the Hungarian national economy, it may be beneficial that the university will attract advanced technology in Hungary as it does in China, since it works in a kind of symbiosis with technological development centres. However, I suppose it might pose a risk if the best lecturers in Hungarian universities are offered salaries that are typical in Chinese universities, because they may not hesitate to join Fudan, which may undercut Hungary’s own higher education institutions.
Of course, the solution is simple: good lecturers at Hungarian universities must be paid high salaries and Fudan lecturers should be encouraged to teach elsewhere as well.
So what does the potential appearance of Fudan in Hungary mean in general?
Like it or not, China will be at the forefront of the world for decades to come, it’s not possible to get around them. One quarter of the world's scientists are Chinese. A small country like ours can choose to cooperate with them or build a wall against them. The Hungarian policy towards China, the so called Opening to the East actually resounds the voice of those who woke up too late.
Hungary, together with the other countries in our region, missed out on the opening that the Germans and the French had already gone through in the 1980s, building up their relations with China in terms of trade, science, education and culture.
Developed countries can therefore afford to criticize the communist state for the human rights situation, while, at the same time, they make newer and newer economic agreements with them in the background, as the business must go on. The largest trading partner of Germany and the EU as a whole is China, and our region is only a minor player in that respect. The situation has changed a little recently because the strong American opposition may slow down the further tightening of the relations between China and Western European countries, but it is not yet clear what the future holds, whether politics will override the economic interests.
The New Silk Road project appears in the news more and more frequently. How do you think Hungary can join this initiative?
The New Silk Road is a kind of brand name, as China has already been trading with the rest of the world, including Hungary. So there is nothing new in the initiative in this regard, it is simply a brand name given to China’s relations with other countries. The real novelty in it is that due to the rapid development of China, its trade and relations with the world became significantly more emphatic, which is reflected in the One Belt One Road initiative.
Does the 17 + 1 initiative not give us an extra opportunity to join Chinese trade? What kind of opportunities does the Aerial Silk Road offer?
Hungary has already joined, as we are already there “on the map of China” partly as an intermediary and partly as a destination country, but of course we can move even further with infrastructural developments. With this and with the further development of our relations, we can strengthen Hungary's role as a logistics centre. China is engaged in extensive expansion everywhere, which is clearly shown by the fact that
while they signed a contract to build the Budapest-Belgrade railway line and acquired the port of Piraeus, they were active also in Western Europe, where they bought stakes in several ports, such as Hamburg or Amsterdam.
The recently announced Aerial Silk Road also opens up regional opportunities for us, as goods arriving in Budapest by air will hopefully be stored here and then distributed to regional markets, which is a great opportunity for Hungarian logistics companies.
According to Eurostat data, Poland and Slovakia have significantly increased their Chinese exports, but Hungary is not yet delivering such spectacular figures. Do you think it is possible for us to make progress in this respect, perhaps due to the Budapest-Belgrade railway line?
These statistical data can be very misleading. On the one hand, they do not include re-exports, on the other hand, they include products shipped to China by German and other Western exporters operating in our region.
At the same time, there is no doubt that for us it is not logistics that is the bottleneck, but the fact that there are very few Hungarian companies that are able to produce world-class products in the right quantities and at the right price - because this is what Chinese buyers look for.
In other words, if we want to increase the volume of Hungarian export, it is not the export itself that we have to focus on but the strengthening of the Hungarian economy. If we can produce high quality products, they will definitely have a market in China.
Are the trading houses working in China? What kind of representation can best help Hungarian products gain ground there?
I have already lost track of the reorganization of the trading houses, there is no stable system here, but it is certain that
economic attachés in the Hungarian missions in China are working hard and have already achieved good results.
For us, it is best if we target sub-markets within China. There may be interest in Hungarian wine, for example, in special Hungarian medical devices or even in Hungarian horses. We also need to accept that we do not have to target the huge country as a whole, but cities which can provide a potential market for our quality products.