Cambridge University and Peking University are in talks about a partnership in Shenzhen as the southern Guangdong city aims to become China’s model municipality. The universities, placed second and 31st respectively in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2019, are in discussions about unspecified joint programmes in the Qianhai special economic zone with backing from the city government, Shenzhen TV reported on Thursday. The news coincided with Beijing’s plans to turn Shenzhen into a “pilot demonstration area of socialism with Chinese characteristics” by 2035. This would involve “the autonomy of higher education institutions” and accelerating “the establishment of first-class universities and first-class disciplines”. Mark Welland, deputy vice chancellor of Cambridge, was in Shenzhen on Wednesday to meet city leaders. There were no details of what the joint programmes may cover, but it would be led by the HSBC Business School of Peking University in Shenzhen, Welland said. “The idea will be initially to build upon a planned collaboration between the business school in Shenzhen for PKU and the Cambridge Judge Business School and then to see those developed into other areas beyond business,” he told Shenzhen TV. Why are Shenzhen parents losing sleep over their children’s education? Welland and Christoph Loch, director of Cambridge Judge Business School, visited the HSBC Business School and met PKU officials, including dean Hai Wen, the school said. A Cambridge spokesperson confirmed the Cambridge Judge Business School was “involved in an ongoing project with Peking University HSBC Business School, focusing on executive education and an initiative to support and encourage current PHBS students to apply to CJBS for their postgraduate education”. But the plan would not involve opening a new campus in Shenzhen. “Although the university is keen to explore possibilities for wider collaboration with PKU, this proposal does not involve the creation of a school or campus in Shenzhen,” the spokesperson said. Shenzhen, which is on the front line of economic reform in China but considered low ground in education, has been trying to build a stronger academic presence in recent years. Shenzhen MSU-BIT University, established by Lomonosov Moscow State University and Beijing Institute of Technology, began admissions two years ago. The Tsinghua-Berkeley Shenzhen Institute, a collaboration of two namesake universities in Beijing and the United States, opened this year and will begin admitting postgraduates students in 2020. Other Chinese universities to have opened campuses in Shenzhen include Peking University, and a partnership of Harbin Institute of Technology and Peking.