Intelligent assistance for a better future

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 November, 2011, 12:00am


Guangdong's leaders have been updating their development strategies, with hundreds of scholars joining the chief executives of multinational giants in Guangzhou last week to brainstorm ideas for a better future.

Many of their suggestions are worth reviewing but one that needs highlighting is the role that overseas universities can play in the Pearl River Delta's long-term transformation.

Steven Ng-Sheong Cheung, a Hong Kong-born US economist and a speaker at the Guangzhou Forum said on Sunday that compared with Beijing and Shanghai, Guangdong was less attractive to foreign information technology giants because of its lack of universities able to provide sufficient talent.

'You can see that foreign enterprises, those in hi-tech industry, always go to Beijing and Shanghai because it's easy to recruit talent there and the quality of students is better,' the Guangzhou-based Yangcheng Evening News quoted Cheung as saying. 'Talking about higher education, Guangdong has lost.'

It is a problem that has been bothering Guangdong for decades, and one that Dr Jared Cohon, president of Carnegie Mellon University in the United States, offered a solution to. Cohon told acting governor Zhu Xiaodan , senior officials and hundreds of students at Sun Yat-sen University that universities could play a very important role in regional transformation and pointed to the way Carnegie Mellon University had helped Pittsburgh deal with a similar situation.

Cohon was in Guangzhou both for the International Consultative Conference on the Future Economic Development of Guangdong, held every two years, and to sign agreements between his university and Sun Yat-sen University on the establishment of a joint engineering institute in Guangzhou that will offer masters and doctoral degrees in electrical and computer engineering from 2013.

One of its goals, Carnegie Mellon University says, 'is to help move Chinese industries from mass-production to technology/innovation-based businesses'.

Cheung and Cohon were actually talking about the same thing. Guangdong needs more talent, technology, and innovation, and overseas universities can help.

Three decades ago, the Pearl River Delta became the first region on the mainland to open up to foreign direct investment, most of which came from Hong Kong, creating a three-decade economic boom.

But Guangdong now needs more foreign assistance, and in the form of 'intelligence' rather than 'investment'.

The deal between Carnegie Mellon University and Sun Yat-sen University is a smart move that Hong Kong universities are keen to follow.

Chinese University of Hong Kong will sign agreements with the Shenzhen government on the establishment of a campus in Longgang district late this year or early next year, we reported on Monday. The campus, with business, engineering and science faculties, will have about 10,000 students by 2020. Its business school will be the first to be set up by a Hong Kong university on the mainland when it opens, two years after the deal is signed.

The deputy director of Guangdong's educational department, Wei Zhonglin, said early this year that the Dongguan city government is also discussing a co-operative venture with Hong Kong Polytechnic University, and that Guangzhou and Shenzhen were about to start talks with Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and the University of Hong Kong.

The plan clearly demonstrates Guangdong's eagerness to upgrade its old industrial model fairly quickly by attracting more top universities from around the world.

Neighbouring Hong Kong, home to three of Asia's top 10 universities, is the top priority on the provincial invitation list.

Meanwhile, the mainland has become a huge market for education, with an increasing number of students seeking opportunities to study abroad, which means that setting up campus in the Pearl River Delta, one of the mainland's richest regions, can be profitable.

But even if the motives of the different parties involved in the education project - local authorities, and institutions and universities from both Hong Kong and the United States - are varied, they should all still be applauded for their bold pilot programmes, which will benefit generations of students and the whole region.