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China Daily Website

A lot to bring to the table

Updated: 2013-06-22 09:00
By Cecily Liu and Yang Yang ( China Daily)

A lot to bring to the table

David Cobb, director of Bartlett

"We hear all the time how keen China is to have world-class experience in architecture and urban planning, and we can certainly help," said David Cobb, director of business development at Bartlett.

Cobb said some of the faculty's professors already impart their knowledge to Chinese government officials and practitioners through public lectures in China. His team has also designed an executive course for Chinese urban planners to learn from British experience, and he is negotiating contracts for the first group of planners to arrive in the UK, he said.

"Doing business is new to us. Our mission is to educate students, but we recognize that in the changing (higher education) funding world of the UK, we should deliver as much impact as we can beyond teaching students. We feel China is a good starting point, and our experience there can be used as a proxy for many BRICS countries."

To increase influence in China, Cobb's team has established Bartlett alumni networks in the country so alumni and their colleagues can exchange ideas at reunion events.

Cobb said other ways for his team to help are by sending talented graduates to Chinese government or private sector institutions for internships, or having faculty staff act as consultants for specific Chinese urban planning projects.

At the same time, many European property funds are keenly eyeing China's construction projects, said Michelle Chen, director of China business at Berwin Leighton Paisner LLP, a law firm in the UK.

Many European funds have already invested in or are in the process of investing in China's residential, commercial and recreational properties, where the rate of return is attractive.

"This provides opportunities for international law firms such as BLP, as we can help European funds understand China's legal environment, and help them to structure a deal with techniques that can minimize their risks," Chen said.

Examples of risk can include the amount of time it takes for the investment to receive approval from China's National Development and Reform Commission and the likelihood of the investor receiving revenue from the investment, she said.

While European property funds' current focus is on commercial projects in China, the country's public sector infrastructure projects are also potentially attractive, said Ben Pape, a founding member of the UK-China Eco-Cities and Green Building Group.

Britain's model of public-private partnership in which private parties invest in public projects to relieve the government of funding constraints is a model that has been successful in the UK and one that China can learn from, Pape said.

"Currently, a lot of funding for infrastructure and urban development in China comes from municipal governments, which puts them heavily in debt to local banks. This trend could be changed by encouraging more private sector investment."

But Pape said a current challenge is the distorted expectations of municipal governments when they borrow from private sector investors both domestically and internationally.

"Private sector investors want low risk and high return. But many Chinese municipal governments are used to borrowing from local banks with low interest rates."

There is potential for the UK's government and private experts in the country to help Chinese municipal governments understand the expectations of private sector investors through drawing on their own experience.

"There is a lot of interest from international investors in China's public sector projects, and these investments could be achieved if China's investment environment improves," Pape said.

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