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UK and Chinese universities establish research network

By Cecily Liu in London | | Updated: 2017-05-25 21:14

Several top Chinese and British universities established a network on Thursday to facilitate joint engineering research and the commercialization of breakthroughs.

The group comprises nine Chinese universities and six from Britain. Representatives signed an agreement to work together in Nanjing, following on from an initial idea proposed in 2016 by Jo Johnson, Britain's minister of state for universities and science. The British Council put up an initial 200,000 pounds ($260,000) to kick-start the cooperation project.

"Our network hopes to use cutting-edge academic research to help Chinese technology companies move up the value chain at a time when the Chinese economy is undergoing structural transformation," said Li Kang, a professor at Queen's University Belfast, which is part of the UK contingent.

"We believe network-wide large-scale sharing of knowledge and research resources will take collaboration to a different level, in contrast to the many collaboration projects initiated by individual Chinese and UK universities," said Li.

This network also includes Tianjin University, Tongji University, and the Beijing Institute of Technology on the China side, and University College London, and the University of Nottingham on the UK side.

Joint education for PhD students is another innovation that will see such students spending time at several universities and participating in a range of research projects "to gain a broader perspective". Li said it has not yet been decided which university will become the degree-awarding authority in such cases.

Research is yet to begin, but study areas are likely to include electric vehicle technology, industrial energy consumption, and artificial intelligence.

The network rides on a wave of China-UK research cooperation, which grew after the UK government committed in 2014 to a five-year 200 million pound funding program to finance joint research projects through the UK-China Research and Innovation Partnership Fund.

Many British universities now host research and development centers for Chinese companies, in sectors including technology, advanced manufacturing, automotive, nuclear, and high-speed rail.

Some cross-university collaboration also exist, the most successful is the China-UK Sustainable Agriculture Innovation Network (SAIN) that was established in 2008 by China's Ministry of Agriculture and the UK's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

"Government support for the network has crucially helped us to transform academic research results into actual policy-making suggestions, while cross-university collaboration importantly facilitates interdisciplinary research," said Lu Yuelai, head of secretariat of the SAIN network. Its research has involved more than 40 British and Chinese universities, and almost 5 million pounds in government investment.

But Lu said the abundance of Sino-British university-level research projects would benefit from more coordination between different initiatives.

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