China encourages its universities to take initiative in international science and tech

Matt Ho
·4-min read

China will encourage its universities to take the international lead in science and technology tie-ups and help the country gain a “winning” innovation edge for the next two or three decades, according to the Ministry of Education.

In a document released on the weekend, the ministry also said it would guide colleges to commercialise the fruits of their research.

The announcement comes amid China’s drive to become more self-reliant in critical technologies.

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To reach that goal, Beijing aims – as part of its five-year plan until 2025 – to improve the country’s lacklustre performance in converting its growing R&D output into actual commercial innovations.

At the same time, China aims to become a major global science and innovation centre, in part by taking an active role in international science and technological cooperation, as underscored by a recent reprint in top state media of President Xi Jinping’s 2018 policy speech.

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Those targets were echoed in the annual work plan for the ministry’s science, technology and informatisation department, released on its website over the weekend.

In the plan, the ministry said that one of its priorities for this year would be to forge Chinese universities into a “national strategic force for science and technology”.

“[We aim] to forge a winning innovation advantage in the next 20 to 30 years through strengthening [universities’] frontier science research centres, vertically integrated platforms for technological breakthroughs, and their state key laboratories,” it said.

“We will forge a national strategic force for science and technology in universities that provides long-term and stable research teams and high-quality innovation support platforms to meet the national strategic demands.”

The ministry said it would raise the standard of international cooperation by universities, encourage colleges to lead global research projects, and strengthen the development of international laboratories. The government would also arrange for universities to part take part in scientific and innovation programmes under the Belt and Road Initiative.

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Another ministry priority will be to accelerated the commercialisation of university research.

To foster this, the government will strengthen its guidance to universities about management of intellectual property and promote the development of knowledge transfer offices in colleges. It will closely work with universities on pilot reform schemes to grant researchers ownership of their inventions and discoveries.

Science and technology parks affiliated with universities are also a renewed focus for helping to commercialise this intellectual property, according to the plan, while elite universities will be paired up with champion businesses to seek R&D breakthroughs in key technologies.

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The ministry’s priorities on university intellectual property are consistent with a separate 2021 work plan released earlier this month by the China National Intellectual Property Administration, which is also concentrating this year on bolstering IP utilisation and valuation by research institutes.

Both work plans are in line with China’s 14th five-year plan, which also set a target to increase the country’s R&D spending at an annual rate of over 7 per cent.

Professor Denis Simon, executive director of the Centre for innovation Policy at Duke University and formerly the executive vice chancellor of Duke Kunshan University, in Jiangsu province, said improving R&D quality was another important aspect in this five-year plan cycle.

“Money does not buy innovation and lots of funds in China have not yielded desired R&D results – namely commercially viable products and services,” he said.

“The [five-year plan] pertaining to innovation is all about quality, quality, quality.

“The question for China is whether its large system can become agile and flexible enough to improve innovative performance at world-class levels.”

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