News Column

Advancing science, one exchange at a time

August 28, 2014

Chen Yingqun


Sir Keith O'Nions, president of Imperial College London, expects Chinese who study at his college to take what they have learned back to China, which will help build more connections between China and the United Kingdom. Provided to China Daily

Imperial college london looks to deepen ties with Chinese universities

The world should seek more collaboration with China in innovation, scientific discovery and educational ties, says Sir Keith O'Nions, president of Imperial College London.

"China is fast becoming one of the world's most important collaborators in innovation, scientific discovery and commercial application," he says. "Anyone serious about the future of science, engineering, medicine and business is embracing Chinese partnerships - and we are excited to strengthen our long-standing ties with the country through Imperial West."

Imperial West is a 10-hectare new innovation district in west London.

O'Nions was in China in July leading a delegation to promote research, innovation and education ties between the two countries.

They met officials of Chinese businesses, universities and research institutions in Hong Kong, Hangzhou and Beijing about co-location opportunities in London to commercialize research.

One important task for the university is to intensify Chinese involvement with Imperial West, which is closely connected to London's technological and medical industries.

Imperial West has been designed to incorporate research, business and healthcare, with the aim of producing scientific development and economic growth.

"At Imperial West we will work with Chinese and other international partners to create value from ideas on a global scale," O'Nions says. "As our vision for this innovation district becomes reality, the UK, China and the wider world will benefit."

Imperial College London has 14,000 students and 7,500 staff concentrating on science, medicine, engineering and business.

A joint data science laboratory run by Imperial College London and Zhejiang University in Hangzhou has also been opened, allowing some of Britain's and China's top data scientists to work alongside one another in London as they apply big data technologies in fields such as neuroscience, bioengineering and meteorology, areas in which both institutions are regarded as particularly strong.

O'Nions says when he first came to China in 1983, the equipment in institutions and universities was primitive, and there was little cooperation with the rest of the world. Now university facilities have improved immeasurably, and collaboration with world-class universities and companies is increasing rapidly, he adds.

Imperial College London is working with Chinese partners to advance research and its application in nanotechnology, bioengineering, computing, data science, advanced materials, offshore energy, environmental engineering and entrepreneurship.

Its Chinese research partners include the telecommunications multinational Huawei and Aviation Industry Corporation of China, as well as scientific institutions such as Tsinghua, Zhejiang, Shanghai Jiao Tong, Wuhan, Hong Kong and Peking universities, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, O'Nions says.

Innovation and research are key parts for Imperial College London, he says.

"Increasingly we find that some of the most valuable partners to work with in these areas are in China."

Over the past 30 years, China has had tremendous achievements in many areas such as medicine, life sciences and aerospace engineering, and even reached world-class level, so it is natural that others want to communicate more with the country, he says. After 1983, he used to visit the country every three years, but as collaboration has become closer, he now visits about three times a year.

"On the pure innovation side, we find many universities in China have very compelling and active agendas in innovation," he says.

Many in the West have criticized China for not being innovative enough, but O'Nions says its industries are catching up. He cites as examples the country's impressive high-speed train technology and the social networking app WeChat, which is widely used worldwide.

Problems the world faces such as shortages of energy and aging cannot be solved by one country or one university alone, he says, and China is working with many countries in these fields.

Collaboration always begins when people see the benefits in working together, rather than with money or specific projects, and talent flows between countries are critical, he says.

"Our collaboration is still in its first stages, and we are merely at the end of the first stage. I think there will be a lot more. What we are looking forward to now is the increase of the inflow of people from Europe and the UK in particular to China and getting some of their education there."

It is education abroad that has built bridges with China's political, business and academic leaders, he says. In the latest university year, 2,011 Imperial students, or 14 percent of the student intake, were from China. More than 5,000 of the college's alumni are from there. The university also has student exchange programs with Chinese universities.

O'Nions says in general in Asia there is a very strong focus among families on educating children, and in general education in Asia can be fiercely competitive.

The standard of English among Chinese students is impressive, he says, and they tend to have an international perspective and to be highly active not only in academic areas but also in activities such as sports, music, dance and the wider social and intellectual environment.

"When these students graduate, they could be working anywhere in the world in different business environments and different cultures. They have had their education in an environment where they can become more aware of other cultures, business environments and so on. This is valuable."

O'Nions says he expects Chinese who study at Imperial College London to take what they have learned back to China, which will help build more connections between China and the UK. More British students should go to study and learn about China, too, as a mature talent flow will be in both directions.

As China attracts international students, one big attraction is the possibility of pursuing studies taught in English in China, he says, and that could be good for students everywhere.

Wang Huiyao, president of the Center for China and Globalization, a think tank in Beijing, says if China wants to be more innovative, it needs to attract a lot of modern international talent. China should encourage more Chinese students who study overseas to return home and also attract more overseas students to China, Wang says.

(China Daily European Weekly08/29/2014 page29)

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Source: China Daily: Europe Weekly

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