GIX: the next step in China’s HE internationalisation

Sino-United States higher education partnership reached a new milestone in September when Tsinghua University and the University of Washington jointly launched the Global Innovation Exchange, or GIX, in Seattle, Washington, with a US$40 million start fund from Microsoft.

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GIX endeavours to bring together an international and interdisciplinary group of students, faculty, professionals, industry leaders and entrepreneurs to create technological innovations to tackle the world’s greatest challenges, in the words of President Yong Qiu of Tsinghua University.

GIX aims to foster expansive thinking and better prepare a generation of leaders with a passion for discovery and the ability to be nimble, in the words of President Ana Mari Cauce of the University of Washington.

In September GIX matriculated its first intake of 30 students on a project-based learning dual masters degree programme for connected devices, which integrates information technology and industrial design and management, among other things. The students will spend their first year on Tsinghua University’s main campus in Beijing then move to Seattle for the second year in autumn 2017.

The 100,000 square-foot Bellevenue campus in Seattle’s high-tech corridor is equipped with state-of-the-art facilities, featuring design studios, a large makerspace, electronics prototyping labs and open learning spaces for conferences and exhibitions.

GIX plans to attract more academic, industrial and social partners from around the world and increase enrolment to around 3,000 research students in related fields by 2025.

As a new cross-border triple-helix [academia, industry and government] model, GIX places a strong emphasis on innovation and entrepreneurship through joint efforts from prominent research universities and like-minded industrial partners across the world.

China’s President Xi Jinping celebrated this Sino-US partnership by presenting a Metasequoia, a native Chinese dawn redwood tree, to the GIX launch ceremony in Seattle in June 2015. The GIX initiative also aligns with China’s recent strong emphasis on innovation-driven development as seen in its national strategy for innovation, published in May 2016.

Ground-breaking initiative for China

GIX is ground-breaking in the sense that it represents the first time a Chinese research university has established a physical presence in the US with an offshore campus.

The US-Sino higher education partnership is usually more visibly seen as American universities opening new campuses in China, such as the Duke Kunshan University and New York University Shanghai and Chinese students coming to the United States for tertiary education, where they account for more than 30% of foreign students.

Tsinghua, one of China’s most prestigious universities, has strived for the past decade to develop its internationalisation at home programme alongside its international strategy abroad. The establishment of GIX can be seen as a critical step for Tsinghua’s influence abroad and its desire to seek global engagement.

This derives from Chinese universities’ belief that many pressing global problems can only be solved based on collaboration between China and the US. It is also part of China’s ever-increasing desire to build world-class universities.

China wants to expand and improve its higher education system as it increases its international participation and takes on more global responsibility. At present China already has the world’s largest higher education system in terms of total number of students in the sector, achieving a 40% gross higher education enrolment rate in 2016, according to the Chinese Ministry of Education.

In the context of China’s fast-growing and diversifying higher education system, leading universities in China embrace the aspiration to compare themselves to, learn from and partner with others in order to become leading global universities.

Other internationalisation initiatives

GIX represents China’s recent endeavours to establish education excellence hubs through initiatives such as the Schwarzman Scholars at Tsinghua University and the Yenching Academy at Peking University.

The Schwarzman Scholars programme is an inaugural masters programme in public policy, economics and business and international studies, attracting global talent with a generous fund of US$435 million.

In a similar vein and also in 2016, Tsinghua signed an agreement with the University of California, Berkeley to establish a Tsinghua-Berkeley Shenzhen Institute offering a dual degree programme to enable interdisciplinary and transnational teaching and learning in science and technology.

Other examples of Chinese universities’ outreach efforts include Xiamen University Malaysia Campus and the Imperial College London-Zhejiang University Transnational Entrepreneurship Centre in London.

These initiatives share the vision of preparing future global leaders with interdisciplinary expertise, innovation and entrepreneurship and a global mindset. It is not surprising that Chinese universities have actively improved their national and international standing through building partnerships with the leading global universities, business and institutions.

In Seattle, GIX has the first-ever bilingual road sign in the city with 'Global Innovation Exchange' written both in English and Chinese. Since it launched in 2015, GIX has attracted funding from alumni of both universities and industrial partners from both countries. In the words of Brad Smith, president of Microsoft, GIX “is about looking ahead a decade and a century”.

Shuangmiao Han is a doctoral student in the department of education at the University of Oxford, United Kingdom, and Zhou Zhong is an associate professor in international and comparative education at Tsinghua University, China.