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Penn is looking to expand its influence abroad with the establishment of its first-ever center in China.

The University Board of Trustees has authorized an initial investment of up to $5 million in a subsidiary fund called UPenn International, which will facilitate operations abroad, including the new Penn-Wharton Center in Beijing.

Though the center is still in its early planning stages, Penn has made some headway establishing itself in Beijing, specifically with the recruitment of an on-site managing director. The University is currently working with officials on the ground in China to coordinate the legal logistics for the center.

Penn President Amy Gutmann said the center will be a major new initiative in the Penn Compact’s pillar of global engagement.

“It’s going to be an integrated center, so it will be for development of alumni relations, for faculty collaborations, for student exchanges and study abroad,” she said. “It’ll be a place where everybody at Penn can come together who is engaged in China.”

The center will not be the first to bridge the University and China — Penn currently has 40 partnerships with 18 universities in China, as well as the Center for the Study of Contemporary China on campus, which was announced in January.

Wharton School professor John Zhang, who would serve as the center’s academic director if the plans go through, said the physical presence of Penn in China will bring unique benefits.

“We’re very well-positioned to advance our educational and research interest in China, but we need some people with their boots on the ground to maintain all the relationships we have set up and to help facilitate the research, educational and career objectives on the part of our faculty members and students,” he said.

Gutmann added that the idea for the center was “really simultaneous” — both Wharton and the central administration had been aware of its need for several years and came together in “a collaborative way.” Zhang added that the center will serve all schools across Penn’s campus.

Provost Vincent Price believes the center will present an opportunity to expand the educational offerings available to students and faculty at Penn.

“Global engagement is one of Penn’s highest priorities, helping our students lead healthy, inspiring, and productive lives both here on campus and around the world,” he said in an email.

According to Price, the academic purpose of the center will be to support existing partnerships and the Center for the Study of Contemporary China, host major conferences and workshops, as well as help faculty members who express interest in the region.

Due to legal constraints, however, the center will not be able to confer degrees.

Executive Vice President Craig Carnaroli said in an email that there is no concrete estimate of the costs yet because the business plan is still being developed and refined. He added that “we do expect to receive philanthropic support from our alumni and friends in Asia who are enthusiastically supportive of Penn and Wharton establishing a presence in China.”

Zhang estimated that the center — which will likely be housed in a preexisting building — will be ready in early 2013 if everything goes according to plan.

“We’re doing it because we have a tremendous amount of engagement already with China with alumni, students, parents and faculty, and having a physical place for a focal point for all of our engagement will enable us to do more,” Gutmann said. “We anticipate doing even more moving forward.”

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