Building on the Portugal link

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 November, 2010, 12:00am

Macau is better known as a tourist destination than a magnet for postgraduates, but one of its universities is carving out a niche as a centre for advanced study of the Portuguese-speaking world.

The University of St Joseph (USJ) claims to be the first in China to offer English-medium master's programmes in African, Lusophone (Portuguese-speaking) and Latin American studies that focus on the economic and political dynamics between the target area and China. The African and contemporary China courses opened in September.

The USJ programmes in Lusophone and Latin American studies have common core courses in colonial and post-colonial studies, nationalism and national identity, Chinese international economic co-operation and investments, and modules on contemporary issues in the target region, such as violence, revolution and citizenship in Latin America.

Highlights of the African studies programme include trade with and aid from China, and political and diplomatic issues in Africa. Also explored are conflicts, peacekeeping and human rights in Africa and the issues of African diasporas and emigration in Asia, as well as the demography, food and health of Chinese communities in Africa.

Fees for the two-year master's programmes are 62,000 patacas.

USJ, a private, English-medium university previously known as the Macau Inter-University Institute, was founded in 1996. All its diplomas and degrees are jointly awarded with the Catholic University of Portugal. Its campus houses 2,000 students, including about 500 in graduate studies. Twenty per cent of the students are from outside Macau - mostly from Portuguese-speaking countries, with a few from the mainland and South Asia.

The small, liberal arts university has set a maximum academic staff-student ratio of one to 10, and aims to have at least 40 visiting scholars to every 60 resident teaching staff. It has 90 full-time teaching staff and 60 visiting professors.

The university plans to move into a new, 450 million patacas campus next year.

Vice-rector Professor Ivo Carneiro de Sousa said USJ had set up the area studies programmes in anticipation of predicted transformations in global demography and economics over the next two decades.

By 2030, the world's economy would mainly be fuelled by young workers from Africa and South America, as the rest of the world, including China, faced up to the issue of an ageing society, he said.

On the other hand, China was asserting its role as the leading trading partner of the emerging economies - it was Brazil's largest trade partner, while Angola was its biggest crude oil supplier - a trend that was expected to continue.

'There is a clear policy from the Beijing government that Macau is to be a platform between China and the Portuguese-speaking countries in Africa and Latin America,' Carneiro de Sousa said. 'It is a role Macau has been playing for centuries.

'Macau has a rich heritage in Portuguese culture. It is home to strong communities of people from Portugal, and previous Portuguese colonies in Africa and Latin America.

'We are hoping that our graduate students can apply for the top jobs in international organisations such as the World Bank and the IMF.

'Now the key players in the global organisations are held by North Americans and Europeans, but in the future you are going to need people who understand the dynamics of the Portuguese-speaking world.'

According to China Customs, commodities traded between China and Portuguese-speaking countries reached US$58.58 billion in the first eight months of this year, up 61 per cent from the same period last year.

Next month, ministers from the mainland, Macau, Portugal, Brazil, Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea Bissau, Mozambique and East Timor will attend a forum in the city on economic and trade co-operation between China and Portuguese-speaking countries.

Nevertheless, applications for the area studies programmes remain lacklustre. By October 21, only 16 students had signed up for the four courses and the USJ was still striving to meet its ideal class size of 12 to 20 pupils for African studies.

A spokesman attributed the low admission rate to the fact that the African and contemporary China studies programmes were only launched this year.

He said students were admitted all year round, and the university was expecting to receive more applications for this academic year.

Ansoumane Douty Diakite, a senior lecturer in African studies and a co-coordinator of the Centre for African Research and Development Studies, remains confident about its prospects.

'The programme is unique - it covers political and economic issues, as well as social issues,' he said.

'We are expecting students who are government officials in international relations and scholars in China-African studies. It is a platform for Chinese and Africans to come together.'