The Next Big Thing

With Microsoft's backing, Tsinghua to become first Chinese university to offer master's degree in US

PUBLISHED : Friday, 19 June, 2015, 3:35pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 June, 2015, 10:31pm

Tsinghua University, one of China’s top schools, and the University of Washington will team up to offer a graduate-school programme after attracting a US$40 million investment from Microsoft, according to official reports.

The programme, dubbed the Global Innovation Exchange (GIX), will initially offer 30-35 students a 15-month master’s degree in technology innovation at a new facility to be built in Seattle. Classes are due to begin next year. 

The curriculum will primarily focus on connected devices, closely tying it to the network of physical objects embedded with electronics that has been dubbed the Internet of Things, according to Ana Mari Cauce, interim president of the University of Washington. 

It is the first time a Chinese research university will offer a master's degree programme in the United States.

“In the face of global challenges related to the environment, resources and health, we need to cooperate across national boundaries to find solutions,” said Tsinghua University President Qiu Yong.

Meanwhile, a growing number of American and European universities are operating partnerships with Chinese institutes of higher education on the Chinese mainland. 

Examples include New York University, which recently opened its third degree-granting campus globally, in Shanghai, and Duke Kunshan University, an international university formed in conjunction with Wuhun University of China as a joint venture in a town about 70 kilometres outside Shanghai.

But both were beaten to the punch by a British seat of higher learning: The University of Nottingham Ningbo China (UNNC) claims to be the first Sino-foreign university to open its doors in China, in 2004.

Tsinghua University, often known as “China’s MIT”, is the country’s leading school for sciences and engineering. Notable alumni include Chinese president Xi Jinping and his predecessor, Hu Jintao. 

Over the next decade, the GIX has lofty plans to become a world-class institution. It aims to partner with leading research and development organisations to foster greater innovation, it said.

“What we are all hoping for ultimately is a major facility that will bring together up to four world-leading universities with 3,000 students,” Brad Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel, said in an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek.

Microsoft’s financial contribution will be spread over five years. The money will be used to fund the first of two planned buildings for the programme. 

The move could also help improve relations between Microsoft and China, said Kitty Fok, an analyst at market research firm IDC.

The tech giant faced investigations by Beijing into alleged antitrust behaviour last year.