|By Doreen Hemlock, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Oct. 16, 2005 --TIANJIN, China -- Just past the ponds where turtles are bred, out toward flat lands once used for farming, a 20-story tower is rising as the hub of a new China-Florida partnership in education.
A team of 500 workers is building a floor a week on the $30 million-plus complex, where students in this northern Chinese city will soon study hospitality and tourism management in a joint program with Florida International University. Many construction workers sleep in trailers by the building site to help get the job done speedily.
The Tianjin University of Commerce chose South Florida's FIU over renowned hospitality schools including Cornell University and Switzerland's Ecole Hotelier for the priority program, partly because both are government schools. Chinese officials said they were impressed by FIU's offerings and its commitment to programs abroad.
China already has some 300 tourism schools nationwide, with many offering technical certificates. But the new program with FIU is seen as the premier venture, offering an accredited U.S. program in English with undergraduate and graduate degrees, fully approved by China's Education Ministry, officials said.
Plans call for enrolling as many 2,000 students a year at the new program, with many to live in the 20-story tower rising here.
There's no denying the need for specialized education amid China's tourism boom.
Many students seeking careers in hospitality have not traveled much and lack experience or knowledge about international standards and visitors' expectations, said Wang Wenjun, dean of the school of hospitality management at Tianjin University of Commerce and a key liaison with FIU.
Managers at hotels and other travel firms also need to hone their business skills, especially in cost controls. In former government-owned and subsidized enterprises, such controls were rarely a priority, so executives need help in accounting and systems to manage inventory, finances and other basics, she said.
Already, graduates from Tianjin's existing tourism program are being snapped up. Zhou "Amy" Guo, 25, an assistant to Dean Wang and the FIU program, said many of her fellow grads have jobs in hotels and travel companies in this booming port city of more than 10 million people. Some work in accounting and human resources.
"It's a rising career," said Guo, who enjoys tennis, karaoke and the TV series Friends in her spare time and has been studying English since age 4.
"As the tourism industry and hospitality industry develop, they will need more and more people to work, especially managers who have international concepts."
FIU plans to start its program in the new complex here next September.
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