Guangming Daily interprets Westlake University from four perspectives: Hello, Westlake University

Westlake News IN THE MEDIA

Guangming Daily interprets Westlake University from four perspectives: Hello, Westlake University

14, 2019


Recently, the Westlake University was founded in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, which drew the attention of many media, including Guangming Daily. Guangming Daily published four articles titled Hello, Westlake University, “What I want to do most is to establish a university”- Interview with President of Westlake University Shi Yigong, Walking on the road that predecessors did not finish yet, and I feel freshness and honesty here. The articles interpret what kind of university the Westlake University is from the perspectives of a university, its president Shi Yigong, its teacher Cai Shang, and its student Qin Shenlu respectively.

The reports on Westlake University by Guangming Daily on Oct 23 are as follows:

Hello, Westlake University

Cloud Town, 18 Shilongshan Street, Hangzhou, China. The Westlake University was founded here on Oct 20, with five Nobel Prize laureates, over 70 presidents and representatives of Chinese and foreign universities, and nearly 100 donators attending the founding ceremony.

Shi Yigong, its founding president, said, “The Westlake University is born for dreams”. Pan Jianwei, managing vice president of University of Science and Technology of China, said that it is a pearl in the palm and heart. Jin Li, vice president of Fudan University, said that it is a brave attempt of our country to develop into a powerful nation of education.

From March 11, 2015, when seven proponents submitted A Proposal for Piloting a New Type of Research University totoday, 1,319 days have passed and the highly anticipated Westlake University finally opened.

An innovation: an institute of world-class excellence in cutting-edge research and innovative teaching

When first entering Westlake University, you may doubt, “Is this a university? It is so small.” The campus, composed of only seven buildings, can be seen through at a glance.

“We do not want Westlake University to be big,” said Shi Yigong firmly.

The university has labeled itself as an institute of world-class excellence in cutting-edge research and innovative teaching since the beginning, which are the connotation of “innovation” Shi repeated.

On Oct 20, Shi said at the founding ceremony, “Westlake University is expected to become a cradle for top-rated and innovative talents and a leader of world’s leading scientific technology.”

In 2017 and 2018, 19 and 120 doctoral students were respectively enrolled at the university. Starting with the cultivation of doctoral student, the university set a precedent of Chinese universities.

Since 2016, the university has conducted eight rounds of worldwide faculty recruitments. From more than 5,000 applicants, 67 Principal Investigators were recruited into its faculty. The teachers specialize in fields of mathematics, physics, chemistry, engineering, information, biology, basic medical sciences, and others. An important standard of the recruitment is whether the applicants’ academic research is the world’s leading in their fields. The university aims to recruit world’s first-class scientists and use first-class scientific research to nurture top-rated innovative talents.

Adhering to the strategy of selectively establishing disciplines, Westlake University focuses on scientific technology. Qiu Min, vice president of the university, said that the university places an emphasis on interdisciplinary research and basic research, and strives to make breakthroughs in original innovations and scientific technology transfer. It is known that the university only opens three schools featuring science, engineering, and life sciences in its first decade, and will develop other subjects such as humanities and social sciences as appropriate.

Qiu Min introduces that within 10-15 years, the university aims to have globally leading research programs in some disciplines, to make significant contributions in basic research, technological innovation as well as scientific technology transfer, and to become a world-class research and education institution with clear positioning, strong development potential, and good social reputation.

A groundbreaking move: a foundation establishes a university

One of the most important reasons that Westlake University attracts great attention is its groundbreaking school-running model. Supported by public and private funding, the university makes history.

Shi Yigong and his partners who have worked in first-class Chinese universities and research institutes felt the vitality and progress of public universities. “Meanwhile, we have kept exploring an inclusive education system and scientific research model that suits China’s situation. Throughout the world’s modern history of science and education, private universities have shown great strength for their flexibility and diversity. Top private universities such as Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and MIT which nurtured generations of outstanding scholars including many Nobel Prize laureates, have become an engine for science and technology-intensive economic development, and have played significant roles in global economy and scientific development,” said Shi.

The newly-revised non-governmental education promotion law took effect in September 2017, in which an important provision is to give non-profit private schools equal treatment in land, tax support and preferential policies as public schools. Favorable policies have brought unprecedented development opportunities to private education, and have given strong confidence to Westlake University.

Insiders considered that the significance of the university is its implementation of a creative foundation-running university model. Most Chinese universities used to be invested by government (public institution), and a small number were invested by social forces (profit institution). But the Westlake University found the third way.

“Our high-quality higher education resources are insufficient, and the contradiction of imbalanced development still exists. Universities such as Peking and Tsinghua are far from enough to satisfy the needs of the public. China needs more, better and more diversified world-class universities,” said Lin Jianhua, president of Peking University, who gave recognition to the school-running model of Westlake University.

It is said that the organizer of Westlake University is the Westlake Education Foundation. This model is not rare around the world, but it is the first of its kind in China. Liu Minhao, chief executive secretary of Westlake Education Foundation, told the reporter that the core mechanism of Westlake University is a system headed by university president under the guidance of the Board of Trustees, and its supreme decision-making body is the Board of Trustees. Different from public universities, the Westlake University has three capital sources. One is the government. Zhejiang, Hangzhou, and Xihu district governments give the university strong support in land, campus building, and scientific research. The second is the Westlake Education Foundation, a major financial support of the university, covering its operation funds and faculty salary. The third is competitive scientific research funds. It will also have some tuition revenue when it starts taking in undergraduates.

Liu Minhao said that at present, there have been 36 founding donators including Ma Huateng, Wang Jianlin, Wang Donghui, Chen Yidan and Zhang Lei, and over 400 donators from all walks of life including civil servants and pupils. By the end of this September, the donation has exceeded 3.5 billion yuan ($507.28 million).

A dream-chasing journey: a bright future is within the reach, but the way is arduous and long

“The university should put effort into the cultivation of innovative talents, be committed to attracting the globally leading professors, developing state-of-the-art disciplines, cultivating world-class talents and making fundamental discoveries, play a positive role in the establishment of Yangtze River Education Innovation Belt, and gather experience for China’s higher education reform and innovation,” the Ministry of Education sent messages of congratulation and expressed its expectation for the Westlake University.

What kinds of challenges will the brand-new Westlake University face? How will the voyage to the dream go smoothly?

Chen Yueguang, member of the Council of Westlake Education Foundation, stated that the first challenge of the university is whether it is able to bring together a world-class team and establish efficient and open systems that promote and support teaching and scientific research in the shortest time. Meanwhile, How to implement this new-type school-running structure, a system headed by university president under the guidance of the Board of Trustees, still requires further exploration and innovation.

Shi Yigong understands that there is still a long way to go. He said that the university will explore its talent training model, scientific and technological evaluation standards, and modern university management mechanism. “We will learn from Chinese and overseas universities, borrow their experience, and get what is useful and avoid mistakes based on careful analysis of the experience and lessons.”

Shi emphasized, “It is the university’s fundamental task to cultivate innovative talents with strong sense of social responsibility.” To achieve the goal, the university plans to concentrate on the cultivation of doctoral students in its early stage. It aims to nurture a group of outstanding young scientists with the support of excellent teachers to challenge scientific problems worldwide and advance knowledge of science. In 2022, the university will start cultivating a small number of undergraduates.

Remarkably, the university proposed establishing an academic evaluation system that encourages innovation. “The number and citations of academic papers, as well as the impact factor of academic journals will not become major indexes of the university’s academic evaluation.” Shi introduced that the university sees whether the scientists’ research is cutting-edge in their fields and makes substantial progresses or not as a major evaluation standard. The humanistic care and academic atmosphere caused by this evaluation mechanism will become part of the university’s unique campus culture.

“What I want to do most is to establish a university”- Interview with President of Westlake University Shi Yigong

“I am over 50 years old. During the past four decades, I have done one thing, getting married and starting a career. And then in the next decade, I have done the second thing, helping my beloved alma mater Tsinghua University develop the discipline of life science. These two things seem to be prepared for the third things, also the biggest thing, founding the Westlake University.

Q: What do you think is the biggest difficulty for Westlake University to achieve its goal?

Shi Yigong: There is no doubt that Westlake University will face many difficulties as it is a new-type university. Just as the newborn, it will tumble a lot and have many things to learn from its birth to being able to walk. The process of learning, which is a difficulty, requires constant review of experience and lessons.

Compared to difficulties, what I want to say most is that there are a lot of people to thank, and a couple of lines and one or two pieces of paper are far from enough to express the gratitude. Just two months ago, a civil servant went to Beijing according to the address of Westlake Education Foundation, and donated all the money in his salary card after knowing the details of Westlake University. With the support of the country and the understanding and trust of the society, the difficulties are not worth mentioning.

Q: What do you think of the historical mission of Westlake University?

Shi Yigong: My answer is “there is a long way to go”. We are China’s first non-profit university supported by public and private funding. And we aim high to develop into a world-class university. Will we achieve this goal? To be honest, we all feel great pressure every morning we wake up, but we get more power. Over the past three years of establishing the university, I often said every step of the university has been down-to-earth, never diverging from our dream. So please believe that the university is moving forward towards its fixed goal. I believe as long as the Westlake University achieves success, China will have more such universities, which will join hands with public universities to fight for the goal of realizing the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. We have the same goal, which is to cultivate responsible talents for the society. A diversified education system will be conducive to the social innovation and national progress. And this is the historical mission of Westlake University.

Q: Where does your courage come from to announce that Westlake University will build an academic evaluation system that encourages innovation?

Shi Yigong: An evaluation system serves as the guidance for the academic evaluation and scientific and technological development of academic institutions and even the country. Digitized indexes are not meaningless, but overemphasis on them will bring everyone to a narrower road, instead of putting effort into making contributions to the society, solving problems and developing cutting-edge technology. We promised to our donator and to the society that we will list these as major indexes of academic judgement at Westlake University. We expect to use an international way such as letting international academic councils and domestic experts to do the judgement. We will see whether the scientist’s research is internationally advanced or not. If it is, whether it has made some breakthroughs or not. We have enough patience to wait five or ten years for a research achievement that benefits the society, rather than a series of papers in one to two years.

Of course, a university has to have social influence, which is measured by the great scientific discoveries we make for people and for the world. We hope that 10 or 20 years later, people will find Westlake University indeed is capable of representing the level of intelligence of Chinese people, advancing people’s knowledge of science, and transferring the knowledge into products or enterprises that promote social innovation.

Walking on the road that predecessors did not finish yet

Author: Cai Shang

A PI at School of Life Sciences of Westlake University

Director of Adult Stem Cell and Cancer Stem Cell Lab

What a blessing for me, a young scientific researcher, to be able to participate in the birth and growth of a new type of non-profit university supported by public and private funding.

My marvelous journey began in May 2017 when I first stepped into Westlake Institute for Advanced Study (predecessor of Westlake University). It was already late at night. At the administration building, I met Li Jian and Ren Zhi who still worked at the office. They gave me warm welcome and helped me settle down. Chen Jin, a teacher at logistic, also sent messages in a group chat of WeChat, saying that they have prepared marinated eggs and other food in the refrigerator for teachers who work late, which made me, who was tired and hungry, feel warm. Later, I found that my colleagues at all the administrative departments of the institute are very warm and thoughtful. They practiced a brand-new service concept and made sure the efficient and flexible operation of affairs of the institute.

Afterwards, we started planning labs. Wu Lianfeng, Jia Jiemin and I checked a roughcast house full of scaffolding. I believe that very few Principal Investigators will choose to start over like this. In a few months, the lab became well-equipped, and we soon built a team of 10 members.

The activity that impressed me most was a weekly meeting at lunch for academic exchange, attended by most Principal Investigators of the three schools who took turns to introduce their own research. A wide range of topics were involved, including stem cell treatment, diabetes, senility, cancer, neurological disease, heart disease, high-temperature superconductor, thermoelectric effect, quantum mechanics, spatial orientation, robotics, and artificial intelligence. These hi-tech and advanced knowledge has a profound impact on our mind. Within a few months, the meeting greatly enriched our knowledge and urged us to discuss the possibility of interdisciplinary research.

People used to constantly ask me why I return to China and why I choose here. The reasons are my simple and pure scientific belief, my obstinate and independent character, and my unspeakable but obvious feeling for simplicity. This exists in everyone’s heart and leads us to realize a beautiful Westlake dream.

I feel freshness and honesty here

Author: Qin Shenlu

A doctoral student from Class of 2017 at Westlake University

A piece of news that Westlake Institute for Advanced Study, predecessor of Westlake University, is enrolling doctoral students was spread across Wechat social networking platform last April 28. I was deeply attracted by its brand-new school-running concept, cutting-edge interdisciplinary research, efforts to seek innovation and develop into a world-class institute, and high-profile experts from home and abroad. I sent a resume and final got here.

In a school entrance interview, over 400 outstanding applicants competed for qualifications to enter the institute, which reflected the pursuit of the university. After a series of procedures, I was honored to become one of the first batch of 19 doctoral students of the university.

The novelty of the university lies in its brand-new school-running model and brand-new learning experience. The Westlake University integrates the strengths of Chinese and overseas universities and forms its own talent training model. I am a beneficiary of this model. The university emphasizes interdisciplinary research and academic exchange. Since the beginning of the first semester, leading scientists from top universities worldwide have been invited to share cutting-edge scientific achievements with us every week to broaden our horizon. Meanwhile, a monthly Happy Hour activity targeting all the teachers and students provides a good opportunity for academic exchange. Also, the university allows students to choose multiple supervisors and form a supervisor committee to give us better instruction. These efforts make us feel being appreciated and feel a strong sense of responsibility.

The sincerity of the university lies in the truth-seeking and practical spirit of its faculty. When I first met my supervisor Professor Wu Lianfeng, his strong interest in metabolic disease and profound knowledge impressed me. Being his student, I learnt the reverence for science and the truth-seeking and practical spirit for scientific research from his.Young Principal Investigators also pull out all the stops to nurture excellent students: weekly meeting, an open door for students every day, and encouraging students to speak out.

A piece of news brought together me and Westlake University. I witnessed the university’s rapid development and my growth over the past year. Dream is leading us to a long journey.