The Asian century is gaining momentum: universities must prepare

The Guardian reports amidst the handwringing over the effect of Brexit on the UK’s universities, we need to contemplate our place in a future global economy driven by technology and innovation. From where will the most important discoveries of the coming decades emerge? Which countries and cities will give birth to the technologies, cures and ideas that will shape our future?

China spends five times that of the UK on R&D each year. For universities hoping to build or maintain their position as global leaders in innovation and enterprise, China is hard to overlook as an option.

Not too long ago it would have been safe to assume that the UK would be at the centre of the action. In 1996, research and development activities were firmly rooted in the big four innovation economies, with the US, Japan, the UK and Germany accounting for half of the world’s research publications. But times have changed: by 2015 their share had dropped to 39%. Meanwhile, the big four’s collective share of global R&D spending slipped from two-thirds to 43%, according to Unesco figures.

Luckily, the UK has a tremendous head start in partnerships with China, beginning with the nearly 100,000 mainland Chinese students currently enrolled in our universities. Recent research conducted at the British Council suggests that the UK enjoys a significant reputational foothold in the middle kingdom. Our survey of 5,000 respondents and analysis of 9m social media posts showed that the UK ranked as the third-most preferred foreign culture and its education system received the highest proportion of positive buzz on the microblogging website Sina Weibo.

On the ground in China, we have seen many UK universities successfully forge bilateral research links with Chinese counterparts, but more impactful partnerships that weave together industry and government funding streams have proved elusive.

To get the most out of opportunities in China, UK institutions will need to embrace a new model of collaboration that involves interacting with more players than they usually work with, including government, industry and even other universities that have traditionally been viewed as competitors. This will most likely entail thorny issues around equality and diversity, IP protection and how to share credit for research findings. But in the end, the choice is a relatively simple one: would we rather be on the side lines or the front lines of scientific discovery?

Read the full article The Asian century is gaining momentum: universities must prepare

Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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