China is still lagging behind competitors in building up cutting-edge research capacity in higher education institutions, according to Shi Yigong, a renowned scientist and the president of a private Chinese university often dubbed “the Caltech of China.”. More effort is needed to turn the country’s college education system into a truly global hub of leading talent, Shi added as part of a speech at the BEYOND Expo 2022.
On Wednesday, the BEYOND Expo 2022 opened online at BEYOND Metaverse. The tech event will have more than 40 talks and panel discussions where leaders and experts across sectors dive deep into the topics of consumer tech, health tech, global investments, sustainability, and Web3.
Please find below the transcript of the opening day speech from Shi Yigong, president of Westlake University and academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The following transcript has been edited for clarity:
Hello, everyone. I’m Shi Yigong. It’s such a pleasure for me to have the opportunity to share my views on the future development of China’s technology at the International Technology Innovation Expo.
Today, I’d like to share my views on the theme of “Exploring China’s Future Innovation-driven Development Model.” Since we are talking about technology innovation it’s related to our education, technology, and talent. These three elements – technology, education, and talent – ultimately constitute the main axis of innovation-driven development.
First of all, let’s talk about education, especially higher education. It’s safe to say that China is the world’s leading country in terms of scale and is on its way to becoming a world power in higher education. By the end of 2020, China had more than 40 million students enrolled in all 2,000 institutions of higher learning.
The quantity is surely the largest in the world, and the quality is also steadily improving. For example, by 2021, both in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings and the QS World University Rankings, Chinese universities had been advancing up the list in the world, with six to seven Chinese universities making the top 100.
But there are some problems with higher education in our country. We have a high educational attainment rate, but we lack cutting-edge researchers. We generally pursue a general and comprehensive education but have no significant advantages or distinctive features. We emphasize knowledge and practicality, but there’s still a gap between us and other countries regarding innovation. We’ve developed far more general talents than the most outstanding and innovative ones. There have been numerous academic achievements but relatively few breakthroughs.
Second, let’s briefly talk about the current situation of China’s technology. Over the past 20 years, thanks to the long-term steady investment in technology, China is now among the top three countries in the world regarding technology indicators. Whether it’s the number of articles, times cited, or the number of patents applied for, approved, granted, etc., all our technology indicators have steadily entered the top three in the world.
Third, let’s briefly talk about China’s talent. In 1978, the 3rd Plenary Session of the 11th Central Committee of the CPC ushered in the Reform and Opening-up era of China and opened the door for Chinese students to study abroad. On December 26 of the same year, 52 scholars from mainland China departed for the United States. It was the first group of students to study abroad after the reform and opening-up started, with an average age of over 42.
By the end of 2019, more than 6 million Chinese students had traveled abroad to study in other countries in the world, and more than 4 million of them had returned home after their studies, bringing great impact and changes to all aspects of Chinese society. It’s safe to say that China has the largest talent team in the world. Of course, although we have a wealth of talent, when it comes to being No. 1 in the world, there’s still a problem with our talent team. That is, the cream of the crop; the top talent is relatively scarce.
To sum up, in terms of higher education, technology, and technological talent, China is one of the top countries in the world and is on its way to becoming a world power. However, there’s an innovation index that reflects the innovation ability of a country, and so far, China is still ranked outside the top 10 in the global technology innovation index.
In other words, although China has become a big power in technology, higher education, and talent cultivation, and is on the way to becoming a world power, we haven’t become a big power or a world power worthy of the name in terms of innovation ability. We still have a long way to go.
Therefore, judging from such an analysis, China’s future development can only rely on high-end leadership and innovation-driven development strategy. And the core of this strategy is the top talent. The top talent we’re talking about isn’t only the core talent in basic research, applied research, core technology, and cutting-edge research, but also the top talent in all fields, in all aspects, from the law, to finance, to social governance, to national management. I think the top talent will be the most crucial factor in a country’s high-end leadership and innovation-driven development strategy.
I’d like to give you an example, which is Westlake University. The founding of Westlake University was designed with the high-end leadership and innovation-driven development strategy as the premise and goal. As early as 11 years ago, a group of returned scholars in the Western Returned Scholars Association were discussing the future of technology and education in China.
They reached a consensus to establish a new type of university which would be small but exquisite and research-oriented, gathering first-class teachers, creating a first-class curriculum, educating first-class talent, and producing first-class results. They would adopt a new model to create a new type of world-class university. Such a university has been successfully established in Hangzhou, and is called Westlake University. It was officially approved by the Ministry of Education in February 2018 and was officially established in Hangzhou in October of the same year.
Westlake University is a new type of university. What’s new about it is that it received great support from the country and was established by social forces. Westlake University was founded to help technology grow, implement innovation-driven development, develop talent, and make some exploratory reforms in science education. Such a positioning of the university was strongly supported by the country in all aspects, as well as by all walks of life, including individuals, enterprises, and local governments.
After four years of hard work, Westlake University now has 201 PhD supervisors. Most of them are world-leading scientists in their respective fields of research. The purpose of having a top-notch faculty is to develop top-notch students. With the active support of the Ministry of Education, Westlake University has been actively reforming and innovating in all aspects of admissions and ability training.
After years of hard work, there are now more than 1,200 PhD students at Westlake University.
With the support of their PhD supervisors, these students are conducting innovative scientific research on major research topics and core technologies, striving for breakthroughs.
Today, as a brand-new concept, the new research university has been gradually incorporated into the top-level design of the country and is increasingly accepted and recognized by the whole of society. In the future, there’s no doubt that Westlake University will become a first-class university that reflects Chinese wisdom and is held in high esteem worldwide.
This university will have the most outstanding scientists in the world, be able to develop the best young talent to undertake the most advanced basic and applied research, explore the mechanism and system of scientific research and education that fits China’s national conditions, and provide a model that can be used for the sustainable development of high tech in China, and make a contribution to the human civilization that makes the Chinese nation proud.
I think maybe 10 to 15 years later, Westlake University will fully represent the wisdom and competence of Chinese people and rank among the best universities in the world.