In the 1990s, Jeffrey S Lehman, then the dean of the University of Michigan Law School, began visiting Beijing to help open a programme for members of his faculty to teach at Peking University’s law school during the summer.
Given China’s rising influence, he thought it would be beneficial for his colleagues to learn about legal education in China at one of the country’s most prestigious institutions.
But Lehman, who is also a former president of Cornell University, did not expect to work for a Chinese university himself. “I would have given long, long odds against that possibility,” he said.
In 2007, the leaders of Peking University, with whom he had developed strong relationships over the years, asked him to help establish a school teaching American law to Chinese students on their Shenzhen campus. That summer, he became the chancellor and founding dean of the school, called the Peking University School of Transnational Law."It’s been deeply gratifying," Lehman said of his Chinese experience.
The number of foreigners working at the law school has increased since it was established, with Americans, Germans, British and South Korean academics. Of the nine permanent faculty, seven are foreigners.
The rise in foreign academics at the law school reflects a broader trend. As institutions in Western countries continue to suffer from budget cuts, academics looking for opportunities farther afield are finding that China is welcoming foreign professors with open arms.
Individual Chinese universities have been increasingly recruiting Western academics in recent years, but the Chinese government is also enticing foreigners with a new programme — called the Thousand Foreign Experts programme — that offers a range of incentives.
Wang Huiyao, director general of the Centre for China and Globalisation in Beijing, said the programme, run by the State Administration of Foreign Expert Affairs in Beijing, would accelerate the number of foreigners joining Chinese schools. There are already many foreigners working in top-tier schools like Peking University.