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Focus on: China and Cardiff

Cardiff and China: strengthening links between East and West

May 2012 saw the University send a high-level delegation to China. It was one of many such visits over the years, but this one was particularly significant

Cardiff Chinese students celebrate the New Year with a spectacular gala

Cardiff Chinese students celebrate the New Year with a spectacular gala

The trip saw the launch of a new joint institute for oncology research involving Cardiff and Peking University, one of the most highly-respected institutions in China. A new International Centre for Biomedical Research was also opened, this time involving Cardiff and China’s Capital Medical University. At the same time, an award ceremony took place in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, honouring fifteen scholars who have taken part in the China Medical Scholarship programme, which sees some of China’s most gifted young medical students coming to Cardiff to study.

This last event was attended by Madame Zhang Meiying, Vice-Chairwoman of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference. This was a significant honour, and a sign of the value that the Chinese authorities place on the country’s links with Cardiff. 

Cardiff University’s track record of working with China is a long one, going back to a time when few other western universities had such links. The city of Cardiff is home to one of the oldest Chinese communities in the UK, and it was the first city in the UK to be twinned with a city in China, having been partnered with Xiamen in 1983.

Dr David Grant with Professor Jiafu Ji

The Vice-Chancellor, Dr David Grant, signs the agreement on the new joint institute for oncology research with Professor Jiafu Ji, President of Peking University.

As Cardiff’s Pro Vice-Chancellor, Engagement and International, Professor Hywel Thomas explains, Cardiff’s links with China are stronger now than they’ve ever been, both in terms of the wide range of projects that Cardiff is involved with in the country, and the mutual benefits that result for China and the UK, both in teaching and research. “Our relationship with China is hugely important for us,” says Professor Thomas. “It is a relationship that is deeply grounded: we’ve been committed to China for a long time. And it is a relationship that has a real two-way flow with the Chinese universities and businesses that we work with closely, bringing benefits to them and to us.”

Cardiff has links with China at a high level. The University’s Honorary International Pro Chancellor is Professor Zhong Binglin, who is President of one of China’s leading higher education institutions, Beijing Normal University. Professor Zhong’s association with Cardiff go back to 1990, when he came to the University to study engineering.

In 2010 Cardiff’s Vice-Chancellor, Dr David Grant, was made an international adviser by China’s Capital Medical University: Dr Grant is the first person from the UK, and only the third person ever to be honoured in this way.

China also plays an important role in daily life on Cardiff University’s campus. As well as the many Chinese academics who now work at the University, Cardiff currently has some 900 students from mainland China (the largest number from any country overseas), and that number increases every year.

What attracts so many Chinese students to Cardiff? First, the University has an excellent reputation across China for its consistently high performance in independent government assessments. Cardiff is also popular with international students because it is an attractive, friendly city, which is easy to get around.

As Senior International Officer Sarah Watts points out, Cardiff does a great deal to smooth the way for Chinese students who are interested in studying at Cardiff. International Office staff visit the country three or four times a year, and the University has agents in the country, who can give prospective students the information they need about coming to Cardiff. Pre-departure briefings help to prepare Chinese students for study in the UK, and for any differences in learning culture from what they may be familiar with.

Chinese students can also learn online about what it is like to study at Cardiff: the University is one of very few in the UK to have a presence on Weibo, which has been likened to a Chinese hybrid of Twitter and Facebook, and which is one of the most popular websites in the country, with more than 300 million users.

Increasingly, students are also travelling from Cardiff to China: the Chinese Scholarship Council involves the University paying for non-Chinese students to go and study in the country, and to learn about Chinese culture. Six students have gone to China in the last three years on this programme, as well as others undertaking shorter study visits.

Coming together to combat cancer

Professor Wen Jiang with some of the Capital Medical University research students at the School of Medicine

Professor Wen Jiang with some of the Capital Medical University research students at the School of Medicine

One example of how Cardiff’s research partnerships with China can pay off is the award-winning collaboration between Cardiff’s School of Medicine and China’s Capital Medical University. The work of the partnership, which aims to find new ways of detecting and treating breast cancer, won in the International Collaboration category at the annual Times Higher Education Awards in 2011.

For several years now, research fellows from Capital Medical have been coming to Cardiff to work alongside the School of Medicine’s Professor Wen Jiang, originally from China’s Shandong province, but who has worked at Cardiff since 1989, becoming one of the world’s leading breast cancer researchers. Some 21 research fellows have come to Cardiff so far, and many of them have now returned to China as accomplished clinicians and medical researchers. The project shows what can be achieved by bringing together world-class researchers in international partnerships.

Professor Jiang is also involved in the China Medical Scholarship programme, through which Peking University and Capital Medical University identify medical scientists with bright futures, and send them to Cardiff for between four and twelve months: since 2010 some 29 scholars have been involved on the scheme. “They’ve all done very well,” says Professor Jiang. “We’ve had to insist at times that they don’t work too hard!” The scholars gain academic research training, while Cardiff gains from working with such talented scientists and clinicians, adding to the University’s international reputation. Professor Jiang has also seen at first hand how the University’s links with China have strengthened over the years. “When I first came to Cardiff, I was one of only three Chinese people in Cardiff Medical School. Now there are at least ten times that number.”

Promoting Chinese culture – Cardiff’s Confucius Institute

Cardiff’s Confucius Institute logo

Based at Cardiff’s Centre for Lifelong Learning, the Confucius Institute offers a wide range of language courses and programmes for schoolchildren and adult learners, raising awareness of Chinese language and culture throughout Wales. It was set up in 2008 in association with Xiamen University, and with support from the Welsh government and from the Office of Chinese Language Council International (Hanban), which acts on behalf of the Chinese government to raise awareness of Chinese culture.

Dr Xueyi Zhu

Dr Xueyi Zhu

As Institute manager Scott Andrews explains, the Institute has been particularly active in taking Chinese language and culture out to schools. “For primary and secondary school pupils in Wales, we run free taster sessions in Chinese language and culture. We’ve seen a rapid growth in interest in Mandarin in recent years; Welsh schoolchildren have begun to take the Chinese language test authorised by the Chinese government, and so far have had a 100% pass rate. We’re now working to design Chinese GCSE courses, and to include Mandarin in the Welsh Baccalaureate.”

With a new Academic Director now in place – Dr Xueyi Zhu from Xiamen University – the Institute also organises a host of cultural activities, including partnering the National Museum of Wales in a recent exhibition of sculptures from the Dazu World Heritage site near Chongqing, which have never before been seen outside China.

Cardiff Confucius Institute

Switched on – partnerships in power generation

North China Electric Power University students Li Jin (left) and Wei Zhang at the School of Engineering

North China Electric Power University students Li Jin (left) and Wei Zhang at the School of Engineering

Another area where there have been particularly close links between Cardiff and China is in engineering, especially in relation to electrical power engineering. A recent ‘two plus two’ programme involving North China Electric Power University, whereby students spend two years studying in China and two years at Cardiff, has seen its first group of students graduating, and Cardiff is also in the process of setting up a similar partnership with Beijing Jiaotong University. According to Professor Manu Haddad from Cardiff’s School of Engineering, “a large part of the reason why we’ve been chosen as a partner by Chinese universities is that we’re part of the Power Academy in the UK – a group of seven universities with strong links to the UK power companies, which work to ensure that our graduates leave with the skills that are needed in the energy sector. So we’re part of an elite group of universities that Chinese institutions are looking to work with.”

An introduction to China – summer schools

In 2011 Cardiff also sent three Civil and Mechanical Engineering students to a summer school at Tongji University. The summer school, which was organised by the China Engineering Education Excellence Alliance (a group of the nine leading Chinese engineering universities), was jointly hosted by Tongji University in Shanghai, Northwestern Polytechnic University in Xi’an, and Chongqing University. The Cardiff students were given lectures on urban planning (and the implications for engineering) by some of China’s top academics and engineers, including the chief planner for the Shanghai Expo, engineers who have been involved in the Three Gorges dam project, and the respective Presidents of each university . There were also classes on Chinese language and culture: according to Civil Engineering student Amie Steele, it was the “chance to submerge yourself in Chinese culture first hand, and to interact with Chinese people on a personal level, that really improved my understanding of the Chinese themselves.”

Designing a low carbon future

Professor Phil Jones’s team at the Welsh School of Architecture has been working on projects in China for some twenty years. Their recent work has focused particularly on the creation of sustainable buildings, through the Cardiff-led Low Carbon Research Institute. “We’ve set up three low carbon research centres in China,” says Professor Jones, “at the Chongqing Academy of Science and Technology (CAST), Tianjin University, and Nanchang University. The School of Architecture has also been working with Hong Kong Polytechnic University to develop environmental assessment models tailored specifically to Hong Kong, with the ultimate aim of enabling buildings to be designed there that are more environmentally friendly.” 

In 2011 twenty Chinese architects attended a low-carbon summer school in Cardiff, and there are plans for more. Professor Jones’ team also recently refurbished a temple in Guangzhou to create a sustainable, low-energy conference centre for the South China University of Technology. The School is now involved in a project funded by CAST, the Chongqing Iron and Steel Design Institute, and the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, looking at the lessons that can be learned from ongoing low carbon building projects in Chongqing, and their further implications for developing buildings standards. With China urbanising at an unprecedented rate, the development of a sustainable built environment is an important objective of both the FCO’s China Prosperity Fund, and China’s twelfth Five Year Plan.

China on campus

The Chinese Students and Scholars Association’s New Year Gala

The Chinese Students and Scholars Association’s New Year Gala

Chinese students make an important contribution to the lively and diverse atmosphere that can be found on campus at Cardiff. The Chinese Students and Scholars Association is particularly active in supporting and organising social events for Chinese students who are studying at or visiting the University. The Association is a non-profit, non-political organisation of Chinese students and scholars, run by its own members. It organises seminars, film shows and cultural exchanges between Chinese and British students, and ensures that Chinese New 

Honorary International Pro Chancellor Professor Zhong Binglin

Honorary International Pro Chancellor Professor Zhong Binglin

Year is celebrated on campus in style. For many Chinese students, their involvement with the University goes well beyond their time in Cardiff: Honorary Pro Chancellor Professor Zhong Binglin is also Honorary President of a very active Chinese Alumni Association.