Asia Briefing: Irish universities learn fast about opportunities in China


University College Dublin had a busy and extremely productive week in China last week. The headline event of the visit was signing a deal to set up UCD Yantai, an international university in northeast China which UCD will operate as a joint venture with the prestigious China Agricultural University (CAU).

Ireland’s third-level institutions have been concentrating on leveraging the booming Chinese education market – Trinity College Dublin was here a few weeks ago trying to drum up funding for a Chinese Studies course, and University College Cork is a regular visitor.

The UCD Yantai project is one of the biggest international university schemes in China.

UCD Yantai, once it is up and running in 2015 – things move fast in China – will be the first comprehensive international university north of the Yangtze River and only the fifth such institution in China – other large projects include Nottingham’s facility in Ningbo and the Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University (XJTLU).

The municipal government of Yantai will provide €300 million and a 300-acre campus to set up the campus in Yantai, in Shandong province, which will provide a pipeline of students to Ireland and support Irish enterprises seeking a foothold in China. “This will be the first with innovation at its core,” UCD president Hugh Brady said after signing the deal at a ceremony in Yantai.

Negotiations went right up to the last minute about the operating conditions for the new facility over the coming decades but the parties were able to find agreement shortly before the signing ceremony.

Dr Brady was also at hand to oversee the Future ICT Workshop in Beijing, an event funded by the Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) International Strategic Collaboration Awards (ISCA) programme, whose mission is to support the development of state-of-the-art and scaleable research collaborations between Ireland’s higher education institutions and partner organisations in China.

To kick off the event there was a good, old fashioned banquet, which was attended by Ireland’s new ambassador to China, Paul Kavanagh, who was presented with a scroll containing the character for “harmony”.

The focus of the workshop was the “Internet of Things” and how to make that the “Internet of Everything”.

“This new revolution will make the “smart” planet, such as smart city, connected-health, smart grid, smart home, intelligent transport and smart shopping, etc, become a reality offering the prospect of a higher quality and more sustainable society and, in doing so, providing major new opportunities for enterprise development,” the organisers explained.

Also in attendance were seven Irish partners (UCD, UCC, NUI Galway, Teagasc, UL, WIT and CIT), and the workshop tried to bring the consortium members together with potential Chinese academic partners to explore new avenues of collaboration, prospective industry partners and potential longer-term funding sources.

The immediate goal is to identify China-Ireland research partnerships that are relevant to industry and that will be competitive for long-term funding from Chinese and European research funding agencies, such as Horizons 2020.

The workshop was held in the Jianguo Hotel on the campus of Beijing University of Technology (BJUT), where UCD operates the Beijing-Dublin International College, and included a speech by Beijing University of Technology president, Guo Guangsheng.

Last year was the first year for the campus and it had 24 students, which has risen to 232 students this year and is among the top 10 international colleges in China. David Fitzpatrick, provost of the campus, now divides his time between Dublin and Beijing.

Yang Yijian, vice president of the Beijing University of Technology, said the collaboration process was going well.

“We start with the education, then secondly we collaborate for research. The institute will be further strengthened through collaboration and in this way facilitate more innovation,” said Prof Yang.

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