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The Role of Chinese Universities in Innovation

The Role of Chinese Universities in Innovation

With so much focus on innovation in China, it’s no surprise that the Ministry of Science and Technology in Beijing is spending some valuable energy and focus on the role that it’s Universities play in helping to create innovative graduates and technical advances in key areas of academic investigation. It’s clear that the government sees a strong connection between it’s long term goals of Indigenous Innovation and the policies and practices that govern China’s higher education systems. This short report describes the basic governance practices and how some of these mechanisms are changing to enable Chinese Universities to play a much greater role in helping the nation become the innovation machine that it aspires to be.

Like just about every other aspect of China’s economy and innovation machine, the role of the university system in China is evolving rapidly.   A few of the facts and figured outlined in this report are shown to the right, but it’s clear that there’s an increasing demand on the university system in China to do more than simply produce graduates.   Both the government and industry expect the university system to provide fundamental research capabilities and to produce graduates capable of competing with the west in driving this fundamental research capability at home, abroad, in industry and in academia.   To date, the university system is not quite meeting this expectation.  However, there are certainly visible improvements and plans are well in place to accelerate this trend.

One unique aspect of the Chinese system is how nearly every avenue of research eventually flows back to the university system.  In the West, there is clear collaboration between industry, the government, and academia, but the level of penetration within industry pales in comparison with that of China.  A recent survey showed that more than 1/3 of all Chinese companies are in cooperation with universities  in their research efforts.   This is significantly higher than what we expect to see in the US, and EU as well.  Part of the reason for this is the huge amount of capital available to universities (and therefore industry) to fund research efforts in China.  As someone living and working here for nearly a decade, I can tell you that there’s no where else in the world to find that volume of cash available for research efforts.   Professors here have access to more money than they can possibly spend, and are constantly looking for industry partners to help develop research proposals.  In China, funding is certainly not the limitation. …Read more