Becoming president of China’s Harbin Institute of Technology (HIT) in 2014 was the culmination of Dr Yu Zhou's lifelong dedication to this important university. He took his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees there and has worked in increasingly important academic and managerial roles ever since. Already well ranked in world, subject and regional rankings, Dr Zhou is ambitious for HIT to gain yet greater recognition for its achievement. With HIT’s centenary to be celebrated in 2020, former QS vice president, Tony Martin, asks Dr Zhou about his vision and plans for taking his university forward.
Dr Zhou, in the highly competitive world of university achievement, what do you perceive as the main challenges for HIT to be able to advance in world university rankings?
The biggest challenge for Harbin Institute of Technology on world rankings is to raise its international reputation. To be a world-class university, one needs cultural accumulation, which is a unique spirit in essence. It is hard to measure such culture or spirit by figures, which is deeply rooted in people's mind and becomes the so-called "reputation", namely comprehensive fame in interpersonal communication. The reputation includes both long history and rich culture, and characteristics and notion of running a university through long-term practice. For example, Harvard University of the United States and Cambridge University of Britain have not only the unique charm of old history, but also the vision, atmosphere, tolerance and generosity of world-class universities in academic field. And it is just such good style of study and school spirit that has won the high reputation for universities.
I note that HIT has excellent results in the ranking criteria that cover research, but that, particularly in QSWorld University Ranking, its academic reputation is not so strong. What do you think are the reasons for this?
By analysing the top 15 Chinese universities analysis of QS, we found that Harbin Institute of Technology got low scores in academic reputation. We notice that one university needs long-term concrete work to improve the objective indicators in the ranking of universities all over the world, that is to say, we can't improve much in short time. While as for the subjective indicators such as academic reputation and employer evaluation, Harbin Institute of Technology has large space for improvement: first, we should cooperate with international famous ranking agencies such as QS positively, focusing on the development and changes of evaluation methods such as the way of data collection, index system and weight to complete relative information; second, we should insist on the international exchanges and cooperation, and encourage teachers to engage in international scientific research cooperation, organisations and activities positively to expand the popularity among the administrators of universities across the world and famous scholars (academic reputation) as well as the acceptance of world- famous enterprises for the quality of the cultivation of talents by HIT.
Internationalisation is a major plank of university advancement. What are HIT’s key strategies for this? For example, are you increasing both the number of international students and the number of countries that send them to you? Are you running international summer schools? Are you raising your ratio of international faculty?
The internationalisation of students is an important part of Harbin Institute of Technology. One strategy of developing internationalisation is to enhance the quality of cultivation and management of the overseas students in China and to promote the integration of Chinese and foreign students to create good atmosphere of campus internationalisation.
Meanwhile, we positively conduct colourful activities for overseas students such as joining hands with each other cultural show for both Chinese and foreign students, sports for overseas students in HIT games for both Chinese and foreign students, the star of HIT summer camp for excellent Chinese and foreign students and discovering China international summer school, which have become the representatives of activities of Chinese and foreign students in HIT. Meanwhile, according to the plan, we have gradually enhanced the quantity and quality of foreign teachers. Our goal is that the proportions of foreign teachers and overseas students can both reach 10% of the total by 2020.
HIT already has three successful China campuses. Are you planning to build an overseas branch campus, either as a joint venture with a foreign university or in HIT’s own right? If so, where will this be?
Harbin Institute of Technology has formed the school-running pattern of "one university with three districts", accelerating the construction of world- class university along the way of "Chinese characteristics, world-class level and HIT standards". Now, we are planning to construct the Sino-Russian joint Campus of both HIT and St. Petersburg University by taking advantage of the tradition and strength of China-Russian cooperation.
HIT has some degree programmes that are taught in the English language. Do these successfully attract international students? If so, are there plans to offer more programmes taught in English?
Now, HIT can provide all overseas doctors from all schools with teaching in English, all overseas postgraduates from six subjects, namely management, civil engineering, materials engineering, electricity and chemical industry, with English teaching, and all undergraduates from three majors, namely civil engineering, chemical engineering and business administration, with English teaching.
In future, we will keep on developing programmes of English teaching for undergraduates, meeting the needs of society nowadays for innovative and practical international talents, and making experiments in the schools and majors overseas students interested in, such as school of architecture, school of computer science and technology, school of electrical engineering, school of communication, and school of municipal engineering.
To push forward the programmes of English teaching, we also set up many scholarships such as HIT scholarship and Qingrui enterprise scholarship to attract more outstanding overseas students engaging in such programmes and studying in HIT.
A successful internationalisation strategy for many universities is to host international conferences on their campus. These may be academic events, or focused on the management and strategy of internationalisation. What kind of such conferences does HIT already host? Do you have plans to increase and diversify this activity?
Over the past five years, HIT has hosted more than 90 various academic conferences, mainly the sequence ones of each disciplinary. HIT has also held bilateral or multilateral international conferences for internationalisation of education, cultivation of students and international strategy. In future, HIT will continue to increase the support for hosting international academic conferences as well as the encouragement for holding famous sequence conferences in each field to expand influence in academic world.
What activity – e.g. online advertising, press advertising, overseas recruitment fairs, education agents – does HIT undertake to attract more international students?
The Chinese and English websites are the important platform and approach to the university's propaganda and overall representation as well as bond of enhancing foreign exchange. HIT has made enrolment promotion via websites with different kinds of languages, where students can acquire the needed information to know about HIT. In the meantime, HIT also conducts a close relationship with schoolmates overseas to establish sodalities for schoolmates from abroad. Now, we have set up the sodality of Korean students in China, and those for overseas students from Russia, Mongolia and Thailand are under planning. Such sodalities endeavour to serve overseas students as well as HIT to push forward the enrolment and promotion and the implementation of the plan of "studying in HIT".
In three years’ time, HIT will celebrate its centenary. Does HIT have achievement goals set for this special event? Will HIT capitalise on this to raise its global profile?
The world-class universities have an overall open teaching pattern, which is the bridge for international education, culture and scientific and technological communication, and to be a world-class university is the great expectation for HIT. HIT will celebrate its one-hundredth anniversary by 2020, when it will enter a new stage. According to the strategic goal of international development, HIT will have five to seven subjects on the list of world-class subjects and some aspects reach or approach the world-class level such as the administration of the school, international reputation and campus environment.
Internationalisation has become the tendency of the development of higher education all over the world, and the task of international exchange and cooperation has been an important aspect for HIT to be concerned about to be a world-class university. We will promote the tasks from all sides to make greater progress with broader vision, more openness and more dedicated effort!
Dr Yu Zhou was born in Wuchang, Heilongjiang Province in July 1955. He finished his bachelor's degree, master's degree and doctor's degree in the Department of Metals and Processing at Harbin Institute of Technology. His PhD was jointly supervised by the Department of Materials in the Faculty of Engineering at Tokyo University, Japan. Before he was appointed as president of Harbin Institute of Technology in June 2014, he served as head of the Department of Metals Science, dean of the School of Material Sciences and Engineering, assistant president and vice president. He has management experience in discipline and curriculum development, graduate and undergraduate education. Dr Yu Zhou has been doing research and teaching many years on ceramics- phase transformation and toughening, thermo shock resistance and ablation resistance of ceramic composites and their application in space craft thermo protection components. Dr ZHOU has won the China Award for Young Scientists. Dr ZHOU has authored/co-authored five books and more than 380 papers indexed by SCI with more than 4.000 citations.