Asia: Europe stays in the game

The take-away

  • China currently invests 2% of its GDP in research – more than the European Union.
  • Many European universities have developed partnerships with their academic counterparts in the Middle Kingdom.

China is now second in the world for the number of scientific papers published, right behind the US. Last year their list of patents submitted grew by 45%. Chinese universities, including those of Fudan, Beijing and Zhejiang, are beginning to top international charts.

This development has been helped by the government’s significant investments. The Chinese government now earmarks 2% of GDP for research – more than the entire European Union.

According to Chunfang Zhou, a researcher from Aalborg University in Denmark, “the government has also implemented an enticing programme to draw back Chinese emigrants”. The Thousand Talents measure launched in 2011 offers a bonus of 1 million yuan (around €128,000) and funding of 3 million yuan (around €384,000) for Chinese researchers who return to China.

In response, many European universities have entered into partnerships with their Chinese counterparts. The Sino-Danish Centre for Education and Research, with a new location in northern Beijing, is the fruit of one of these projects. “As a small country, we knew it would be difficult to attract China’s interest in forging a partnership, so we created a single platform for the eight Danish universities to coordinate their interaction with Chinese institutions,” explains Morten Laugesen, the centre’s deputy director.

Shared projects include exchanges for PhD students, research collaboration in such topics as renewable energy, water and life sciences, and seven joint master’s programmes. Chinese academia still focuses heavily on immediate results and less on fundamental research. “Universities set annual quotas for the number of works researchers have to publish,” says Zhou. As a result, they often use ghost writers and outsource revisions to maximise productivity.