10 September 2008 ORT Uruguay signs deal with Chinese university ORT Uruguay University has become Chinas gateway to Latin American culture with the signing of a landmark academic agreement with Harbin Normal University. Having established a Spanish language programme, Harbin University was looking for a partner to which it could send students for two years before returning to China for the final year of their degree. ORT Uruguay University, which the Times Higher Education Supplement has ranked in the top two per cent of the worlds tertiary institutions for three years running, was a prime candidate. But, in addition to a meeting of minds, it turns out that the relationship between the two universities is also a rekindling of the historic friendship that has long existed between Harbin and the Jewish People. The Chinese delegates were obviously very much aware that ORT is a Jewish university and my impression is that they saw this as an asset, said ORT Uruguay Rector Dr Jorge Grunberg. We really hit it off. At the end of our meeting, its head, Professor Daobin Fu, the Vice-President of Harbin University, said to me that he would be glad to host me in Harbin. He said he was particularly interested in hosting me because he wanted to show me the citys Jewish cemetery and other remnants of the Jewish community that once lived there. The Memorandum of Understanding signed in Montevideo forms the basis of what is the first international student exchange programme in Uruguay, and one of very few that exists in Latin America as a whole. The first group of 20 students is expected to arrive at ORT Uruguay in September next year. The novelty of the programme is such that we now have to work closely with the Uruguayan authorities to see how Chinese students can stay here for two years without having to become citizens, Dr Grunberg said. There is currently no such thing in Uruguay as a student visa. As part of the agreement, ORT Uruguay will host a Confucian Institute, an official Chinese cultural centre that is equivalent to Frances Alliance Francaise or Germanys Goethe Institute. Everybodys very excited by this agreement, Dr Grunberg said. After all, where these 20 students come from there are many others. And Harbin having a Jewish link adds to our interest. Russian Jews started to settle in Harbin, in Chinas remote north-east corner, in the late 19th Century and reached a peak of about 15,000 in the early 1930s. Their numbers swelled with refugees of Czarist persecution among them the parents of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and later with refugees from Nazism. In the 1950s most Jews made aliyah and the community finally evaporated in 1985. However, the people of Harbin have been careful to preserve many of the old Jewish streets and buildings as well as what is the largest Jewish cemetery in Asia with 700 headstones with Hebrew engraving. In addition to Professor Fu, the delegation from Harbin Normal University comprised Professor Jiang Tao, the Head of its School of Western Languages and Literature, and Professor Li Gaogui, the Head of the Education Commission of Helongjian province. Harbin Normal University was founded in 1951 and now has more than 30,000 students in 16 colleges pursuing 46 academic majors. The university also has an international college which has enrolled students from more than 20 countries. Dr Grunberg said that the presence of Uruguayan students at the university was a long term possibility that would be encouraged. ORT Uruguay is not the first member of the ORT family to formalise academic exchanges with a Chinese institution. In December 2006, ORT Strasbourg signed a cooperation agreement with Nanjing Tianjiabing High School. In addition to permitting student exchanges, the agreement allows Chinese teachers to stay at ORT Strasbourg to improve their English and French and while there to teach Mandarin to post-high school students of International Trade. However, ORTs connection to China goes back further than that: ORTs vocational school in Shanghai catered to the needs of 17,000 Jewish refugees who lived in the city between 1941 and 1950.