The University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration (SSA), in partnership with Peking University (PKU) in Beijing and Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU), is launching a collaboration to advance social work education and research, providing exchange opportunities for social work students and faculty to study and research major social problems in the People's Republic of China.
China has established a goal to educate 1.45 million new social workers by 2020 to address social issues that have emerged during recent decades of rapid urbanization and industrialization. The challenge for the nation is to educate a generation of social workers while simultaneously building a rigorous academic infrastructure that includes research and experiential learning opportunities.
Over the past several years, SSA has participated in faculty and student exchanges, organized symposia and workshops, and partnered with faculty from across China as they work to establish an educational infrastructure, professionalize the field, and develop the capacity to grow China's social welfare system.
Building on such efforts, a new endowment has been established to create a formal partnership among the three universities. The lead gift of $3 million, which is the largest gift from a living SSA alumni or former student, was given by Anna Sohmen, EX '68, and Sue Peng and Xiaotian Zhang. Sohmen attended SSA in the 1960s and was a professor who taught social work at the University of Hong Kong. She is the eldest daughter of Sir Pao Yue-Kong, founder of Hong Kong-based Worldwide Shipping. Sue Peng and Xiaotian Zhang are philanthropists.
"SSA can be a leader in advancing social work in China," Sohmen said. "The goal is to address many of the social issues that are emerging in China. The western world went through more than a hundred years of industrialization, whereas China moved quickly from an agrarian society to the digital age. As a result, China has to cope with abandoned children in villages, broken marriages, and a host of educational and integration problems due to mass-migration to urban areas."
Says Sue Peng, "I believe that people, when they can, will always want to give back to their family and the community. I am glad to have the opportunity to give in such a meaningful way, and it's my pleasure to work with three universities and Mrs. Sohmen."
Two events were held to announce this formal partnership. The first was held at PKU on August 30, 2016 and the second was held at PolyU on September 1. The events will include a formal signing ceremony and presentations on social change, social policy challenges, and social work practices in China and the role of the partnership going forward. The partnership will establish an international platform to build rigorous educational curricula and research in social welfare and social policy in China. It will also offer opportunities for students from mainland China, Hong Kong, and the United States to study together.
"A little more than a century after SSA helped to give birth to the profession of social work in the U.S., we are excited to now be playing an important role in fostering the birth of modern social work in China," says Neil Guterman, Dean of SSA. "In return, we will learn a great deal about tackling complex social problems across multiple contexts, both locally and globally."