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School explores new partnerships in China

Although China remains the world’s second-largest economy, the country continues to experience an ever-widening gap between rich and poor residents. This growing wealth disparity and the challenges it creates are among the reasons faculty at UNC’s School of Social Work continue to explore possible partnerships with universities in China to help prepare the country’s young social workers for research and practice.

Currently, the School is working closely with Beijing’s Capital Normal University to develop a plan for social work faculty and student exchanges as well as opportunities for joint research.

“They are also very interested in training for community social workers, including the possibility of having our faculty and staff teach short courses around the issues of alcohol, tobacco and drug use,” said School Dean Jack M. Richman, who with Tate Distinguished Professor Mark Fraser, returned in November from a trip to China.

Over the next few months, the School and Capital Normal’s Department of Social Work will be preparing a “memorandum of understanding (MOU),” which could be signed by the spring, Richman said. If approved, the partnership would be the School’s second in China. The School signed a similar MOU with the School of Social and Public Administration at East China University of Science and Technology (ECUST) in Shanghai in 2008.

Richman and Fraser visited with ECUST officials during their trip last month and discussed other possible exchanges and joint projects with the School. Fraser also taught a one-week intervention research course at the university. The class included about 25 MSW and doctoral students.

For the final leg of the trip, both faculty members participated in a conference at ECUST and hosted by the Consortium of Institutes on Family in the Asian Region. Fraser delivered the keynote address, speaking on “Social and academic development in childhood: Strengthening social-emotional skills through the Let’s Be Friends Program.” Richman’s presentation focused on “Conceptualizing couple and family development for use in social work practice.”

Such conferences and continued academic partnerships offer UNC faculty the chance to assist China as it faces growing social issues, including a rise in the divorce rate, challenges around aging care, and an increasing migrant population, Richman said.

“China is really having its own social revolution right now,” he said. “Given that we do intervention research, it’s important, in particular, for this School to be there because we have the ability to help them develop successful interventions within their own cultural frame.”

Related story: Fraser delivers keynote address at conference in China