Over the years, Dr. Barry Lesser has made dozens of visits to China in his capacity as director of the joint program between Dalhousie’s Department of Economics and the Shandong University of Finance and Economics (SDUFE) but overcoming the language barrier remains a challenge. Perhaps befitting an economist, he has learned how to count in Mandarin.
“If you know one to 10, plus a separate word for ‘hundred’ and a separate word for ‘thousand,’ you can count all the way up to one million,” says Dr. Lesser, professor emeritus and a former chair of the Department of Economics.
You don’t need to count quite that high to quantify the success of the partnership between Dal and SDUFE since the two institutions signed an articulation agreement in 2006, but the numbers are nevertheless impressive. Including those currently enrolled, Dr. Lesser estimates 400 students have come to Dal to complete the final two years of their Bachelor of Science degree through the joint program, also known as the China Program.
The quality of the students is also notable. He says that seven of the last 11 winners of the University Medal in Economics, awarded to the Honours student with the highest grade point average in their graduating class, have come from the China Program and that 70 per cent of graduates go on to pursue postgraduate studies.
While on his most recent visit to China in November 2023, Dr. Lesser was awarded the title of “Honourary Citizen of Shandong Province.” The SDUFE nominated him for the designation, which is the highest honour a foreigner can receive from the province.
“This title is an acknowledgement of Dr. Lesser’s great efforts in promoting the cooperation between higher education in China and Canada over the past 17 years,” SDUFE vice-president Hongxia Zhang said in a speech, also noting that Dalhousie is one of the institution’s most important international partners.
While Dr. Lesser is grateful for the recognition, he says that the China program’s success is down to the contributions of others over the years, including support from the Department of Economics, three different deans of Science (Drs. Keith Taylor, Chris Moore, and Chuck Macdonald), and Shannon Peng, the program's associate director. “I may be the one who received this award, but a whole lot of people on the Dalhousie side and the Shandong University of Finance and Economics side have been part of the success,” he says.
This was not Dr. Lesser’s first bit of recognition in China. He also previously received the People’s Friendship Envoy of Shandong Province and the Qilu Friendship Award from the Shandong Provincial Government. In 2013, he was named an honourary professor at SDUFE.
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The joint program allows eligible students from SDUFE to come to Dal to complete the remaining two years of their undergraduate degree. Students who opt to remain at SDUFE for the full four years will take 10 courses in English from Dal-certified instructors over the course of their program.
The collaboration with SDUFE is the longest-running of the Department of Economics’ international partnerships, which also includes a joint program with the University of Finance and Economics in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, and an exchange program with the University of International Business and Economics (UBIE) in Beijing. A joint program with SDUFE for students majoring in statistics is also operated by the Faculty of Science China Program, in cooperation with the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, with a mathematics stream in development.
For more information about the joint program and other international offerings, visit the Department of Economics website.
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