China ‘tri­als new form of gov­er­nance’ with pri­vate univer­sity

THE (Times Higher Education) - - NEWS - John.mor­gan@timeshigh­ere­d­u­ca­tion.com

A new pri­vate univer­sity in China aim­ing to be among the world’s best within 15 years is seen by ex­perts as a po­ten­tial key step in the na­tion’s higher ed­u­ca­tion de­vel­op­ment, if it is al­lowed greater au­ton­omy than state in­sti­tu­tions.

Westlake Univer­sity in Hangzhou, which has just been given ap­proval by the Chi­nese Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion, will “pri­ori­tise re­search ar­eas in nat­u­ral science, med­i­cal science, and ad­vanced tech­nol­ogy”, state news agency Xinhua re­ported.

The project, led by bio­physi­cist Shi Yigong, a for­mer Prince­ton Univer­sity pro­fes­sor and Ts­inghua Univer­sity vice- pres­i­dent, was first pro­posed in 2015. Although it ad­mit­ted its first batch of 19 stu­dents in au­tumn 2017, it was clas­si­fied as a re­search in­sti­tute – un­der the name Westlake In­sti­tute of Ad­vanced Study – un­til be­ing ap­proved by the min­istry as a univer­sity in March.

The non-profit in­sti­tu­tion, ini­tially for doc­toral stu­dents only, is ex­pected to grow to 5,000 stu­dents once un­der­grad­u­ates are ad­mit­ted. It is said to have held “global re­cruit­ment drives” to at­tract aca­demics.

Pro­fes­sor Shi, ex­pected to be the univer­sity’s first pres­i­dent, was quoted by the South China Morn­ing Post as hav­ing said in a De­cem­ber speech that, within 15 years, “ev­ery in­di­ca­tor of our univer­sity will be on a par with that of Cal­tech”. The in­sti­tu­tion “will be re­garded as one of the best uni­ver­si­ties not just in Asia but around the world”, he added.

Ka Ho Mok, vice-pres­i­dent of Hong Kong’s Ling­nan Univer­sity, said that Westlake’s suc­cess would de­pend not only on fund­ing sup­port and the back­ing of lo­cal and na­tional gov­ern­ment, but also on “how the univer­sity is gov­erned and man­aged”.

Pro­fes­sor Mok con­tin­ued that, if Westlake could fol­low “the gov­er­nance model of pri­vate uni­ver­si­ties in the West, given more in­sti­tu­tional au­ton­omy in run­ning its pro­grammes and [if] the gov­er­nance struc­ture is dif­fer­ent from state uni­ver­si­ties, it may be­come more au­tonomous and flex­i­ble in univer­sity gov­er­nance”.

While the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment might be “pi­lot­ing a new form of gov­er­nance through this project”, it will be key to ob­serve “how this univer­sity is gov­erned in fu­ture”, he said.

Au­ton­omy from gov­ern­ment is of­ten seen as key to the suc­cess of the world’s lead­ing uni­ver­si­ties and higher ed­u­ca­tion sys­tems.

The Hangzhou gov­ern­ment

in­jected Rmb400 mil­lion (£45 mil­lion) into the pro­posed univer­sity last year, ac­cord­ing to the SCMP. The univer­sity also has sig­nif­i­cant back­ing from Chi­nese en­trepreneurs, with the founders of tech­nol­ogy gi­ant Ten­cent and the chair­man of prop­erty de­vel­oper and cinema chain Wanda Group among those to do­nate to the in­sti­tu­tion.

The in­sti­tu­tion takes its name from Hangzhou’s West Lake, a ma­jor tourist des­ti­na­tion in the city of about 9 mil­lion in­hab­i­tants, lo­cated about 100 miles from Shang­hai.

Philip Alt­bach, found­ing direc­tor of the Cen­ter for In­ter­na­tional Higher Ed­u­ca­tion at Bos­ton Col­lege, high­lighted the “amaz­ingly op­ti­mistic” timescale for Westlake’s am­bi­tions.

It was “some­what hard to be­lieve that the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment, par­tic­u­larly in the cur­rent en­vi­ron­ment, would per­mit real au­ton­omy”, he added.

“It is cer­tainly the case that a science and tech­nol­ogy in­sti­tu­tion would not have quite the same is­sues about aca­demic free­dom and free ac­cess to re­sources that com­pre­hen­sive uni­ver­si­ties would have,” Pro­fes­sor Alt­bach con­tin­ued. “How­ever, it should be noted that the best science and tech­nol­ogy uni­ver­si­ties world­wide – such as Mas­sachusetts In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy and many oth­ers – also have pretty strong so­cial science and hu­man­i­ties fac­ul­ties.”

At­trac­tive des­ti­na­tion new pri­vate in­sti­tu­tion Westlake Univer­sity takes its name from Hangzhou’s West Lake, a tourist des­ti­na­tion in the city the

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