Duke University, A Stepping Stone For Kunshan County‘s Transformation

摘要: After enjoying over 20 years of demographic dividend, Kunshan had been considering ways to have its second growth opportunity. And this time, an overseas university reached out to this Chinese county.

(Chinese version)

Since the Ministry of Education issued the Regulations for Chinese-Foreign Education Cooperation in 2003, there are ten Chinese-foreign partnered universities with independent legal person in the country to date.

Five out of these ten universities are located in the Zhejiang-Jiangsu-Shanghai region, forming almost a straight line on the map, from the North to the South.

Duke Kunshan University is located at the very north end of this line, co-founded by Duke University, Wuhan University and the government of Kunshan. Unlike other Chinese-foreign cooperated universities, it’s the only university that’s set up in a county. This university carries a sort of wish from the city, a certain longing. Or we can say that it’s a situation where a developing country wanting so badly to apply the most developed country’s experience.

There is more than just the pacific that lies between the gap of China and the U.S, an old country with thousand years of history and burden that seeks growth and power in the new era, and a young country that has been a world leader in the past five decades. The gap is made by history, time and culture.

So what changes can a Chinese-foreign university bring to a city? What impact will America’s higher education logic will have on China?

Changes in Kunshan

Kunshan is located at a very convenient location, with Suzhou in its west, Shanghai in its East, Changshu and Taicang in the north, facing Zhejiang Province in the south.

Companies from Taiwan started to flood into the mainland after the reform and opening up policy was launched, providing with the county the very first opportunity of development in contemporary China.

In the very beginning, most companies from Taiwan would choose to set up factories in the Pearl River Delta region due to the cheap labor and the export advantage presented by the proximity to Hong Kong as they targeted the international market. However, as the mainland’s economy and average income climbed up, these Taiwanese companies realized that the mainland also carried immense market potential and prospect.

In 1992, Taiwan bike maker GIANT put its investment in Kunshan. In fact, GIANT originally planned to set the factory in Shanghai, but the negotiation with Shanghai had been slow and difficult, which brought down GIANT’s passion. Meanwhile, Jiangsu province and Kunshan’s local government actively sought cooperation with the bike maker. Eventually, GIANT decided to base in Kunshan.

GIANT’s sales has been rising fast in mainland

GIANT’s sales has been rising fast in mainland

Statistics show that since the factory started official production in April 1994, GIANT’s bike sales then hit 154,000, with a sales volume of ¥70 million. And 46,000 of these bikes were sold domestically, bringing the company ¥55 million. Fast forward to 2001, GIANT’s sales reached 2.26 million, cashing in ¥1.223 billion, with a domestic sales of 960,000 that cashed in ¥350 billion.

In 2002, Kunshan’s GDP hit ¥31.434 billion and its GDP per capita grew to ¥52,078, making the county the leading force in the province. In that year, there were 638 industrial companies in Kunshan, 207 of which were companies from Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, accounting one third of the total amount. Such proportion was of the highest within the province, far more greater than Suzhou, which was the second leading city(15.2%).

In 2005, Kunshan transferred 26 labor-intensive companies that were valued at ¥300 million in total out and attracted high tech companies with an annual production of ¥3 billion to its region.

At the same time, Taiwan’s First International Computer shut down its last production line in Taiwan.

In 2005, Kunshan manufactured 15.66 million laptops and 7.31 digital cameras. During that period, one in third of laptops in the world were manufactured in this region that’s only 900 square kilometers. With its great advantages, Kunshan made it the county with the largest export volume in Jiangsu province in that year. Cao Xinping, the municipal party secretary of Kunshan once stated that Taiwanese companies contributed over 90% of the import and export volume in Kunshan.

However, the peak time ended when the financial crisis struck in 2008.

For the very first time since 2005 the investment projects of overseas companies started falling, declining from 7,126 to 4,219 in 2009. During 2008 and 2009, the growth of the actual investment of overseas companies was only 0.8%. Meanwhile, the number of foreign invested companies had been dropping a bit for three consecutive years since 2007.

Kunshan was also affected by the greater environment. In 2009, Kunshan’s actual foreign investment only grew by 3.8% and its export volume only had a growth of 5.4%. From 2009 to 2011, the production volume of laptops grew by 30.8%, 17% and 5% respectively. From 2012 to 2013, due to statistical caliber changes, computers replaced laptops, which resulted in a 4.8% negative growth.

The decline of traditional manufacturing industry and import and export had brought along issues. Sweatshop phenomenon among Taiwanese companies raised more and more public attention. According to statistics from NGO, from 2010 to 2011, the rights of the workers at Taiwanese factories in Kunshan were violated.

Issues that occurred in Kunshan Renbao factory included:

The workers did not have a copy of their labor contract;

The factory forced workers to work overtime;

The workers did not have any professional training on environment and health;

Kunshan Foxconn factory:

The workers worked at least ten hours per day and got only a day off on Sunday;

The workers had to pay ¥170 for the social insurance;

Irregular overtime working

It’s even worse for the interns since during the six-month internship agreement the interns would have no extra payment for working overtime and the factory wouldn’t buy social insurance for them.

The cost increase of labor and manufacturing, the decrease of supporting policies, and the growing pressure from the competition in the market had made Taiwanese companies realize their golden age had come to an end in Kunshan. Kunshan’s municipal party secretary Zhang Guohua stated in 2010 that: “If you are not making money in Kunshan, then I suggest you find another place to achieve that.”

In August 2014, Zhongrong factory exploded, injuring and killing lots of people, which eventually surfaced Kunshan’s problems that had also grown alongside with its fast economic growth. Kunshan had been the leading county in China for several years, and before the explosion Kunshan’s city committee even studied the issues of city transformation.

After enjoying over 20 years of demographic dividend, Kunshan had been considering ways to have its second growth opportunity. And this time, an overseas university reached out to Kunshan.

The triangle

The Research Triangle Park amasses a great amount of companies

The Research Triangle Park amasses a great amount of companies

Besides the Silicon Valley in the west coast, the U.S also has a high tech zone named Research Triangle Park in the east coast that concentrates three research based universities: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, North Carolina State University, and Duke University.

At present, this 28 square kilometers region is home to over 200 companies and 46,000 high tech professionals. IBM’s second largest operation center is based in this region while GlaxoSmithKline has based its biggest R&D center here. It’s also the second important foothold for Cisco while having Red Hat and Lenovo’s HQ as well.

The Research Triangle Park has a history of 50 years.

After the second world war, North Carolina’s spinning, tobacco and furniture industry fell into a decline that lasted for over a decade, causing profound economic downfall for the region and massive job loss. In the 50s, the state, the local government, companies and schools put job opportunity generation and diversifying the economy on their agenda. In 1959, they came up with the Research Triangle Park blueprint, focusing on the ever-growing high tech industry.

In late 60s, Research Triangle Park only had 21 companies in the region. The number then has surged to 178 by 2013. As a matter of fact, companies with less than 50 staff account for 70% of these companies. Almost 90% of these small-sized companies moved into the zone after 2000. 45% of companies in the region focus on biotech and life science, and over 18% focus on communication and information technology.

Guided by policies and it own advantages, lots of companies had chosen Research Triangle Park as their base, bringing out the agglomeration effect. Research shows that a region’s income and development level rises along with the average education level and technical proficiency in the region. The three universities mentioned above have provided the companies in the region with talented graduates and research resources. In 1998, one fourth of the new employees in this region were from the three universities mentioned above. In 2006, 5% of the staff in this region were Ph.D holder.

More importantly, the congress passed the Bayh-Dole Act in 1980.

The Bayh–Dole Act is United States legislation dealing with intellectual property arising from federal government-funded research. The key change made by Bayh–Dole was in ownership of inventions made with federal funding. Before the Bayh–Dole Act, federal research funding contracts and grants obligated inventors (where ever they worked) to assign inventions they made using federal funding to the federal government. Bayh–Dole permits a university, small business, or non-profit institution to elect to pursue ownership of an invention in preference to the government.

During 1973 and 1975, the U.S experienced an economic drag which signified the end of the fast growth post-war period for western countries. In response to the situation, the congress sought ways to better manage the annual R&D funding of $75 billion. Statistics show that the government has over 28,000 patents at its disposal but only 5% of them haven been authorized to use and only 25% to 30% are for commercial companies to use for inventions and development.

The Bayh-Dole Act greatly encouraged universities and research institutes to transform commercially and tightened the connection between universities, government and companies, benefiting the three sides. The time needed for scientific achievements to turn into products had been drastically shortened, lowering the R&D cost for enterprises and getting universities more R&D funding support. That’s how a trilateral mechanism was formed.

The concentration of small and mid-sized companies brings about cluster effect and research advantages, which makes the Research Triangle Park an important incubator for startups.

Statistics show that up till 2013, only 36 out of the 70 companies that moved into the region in 1989 still remained there, and that 60 out of 122 companies that moved in in 1999 survived. In addition to that, 122 out of the 157 companies that moved in in 2009 remained. During 2008 to 2013, 63 more companies joined the region. That said, as groups of companies moved away from the research park, waves of mid and small-sized startups also flock in.

The Bayh-Dole Act improved the patent application process for American universities and conversion

The Bayh-Dole Act improved the patent application process for American universities and conversion

The research advantages provided by the universities in the triangle also attract companies that share common research direction. The combination of the commercial industry and research resources continues to drive research achievements and commercialization, attracting more and more companies and better resources. At last, the cluster effect had maximized the research park’s advantages on biotech and information technology.

The initial goal of establishing the Research Triangle Park was to resurrect the economy and create new jobs. And the park did boost the prosperity of the region. Research shows that from 1970 to 2006, seven counties that are close to the park had had an increase of employment by nearly 700,000. The central counties, Wake, Orange and Durham, had an employment increase of 200% during the past four decades.

Unlike the Silicon Valley that was naturally formed, the Research Triangle Park was backed by a series of supporting policies and was pushed by the government, research institutes and companies. The success of Research Triangle Park shows us that under appropriate guidance and with a well-planned blueprint, quality research universities can stimulate regional economy and industrial upgrade.

For basketball fans, Duke University won’t be a foreign name. And the university is also renowned in the academic world with three graduates and two professors winning the Nobel Prize and three graduates holding the Turing Award. As the academic and research center of Research Triangle Park, Duke University continues to pump in fuels for the region.

It’s exactly what Kunshan needs.

As early as in 2005, Duke University cooperated with the National University of Singapore and founded a doctoral med school program. When this prestigious university first sought cooperation in China, its initial ideal destination was Shanghai. However, after negotiating with Shanghai Jiaotong University for one year and eventually failing to reach an agreement, the cooperation couldn’t have happened.

When choosing to work with Wuhan University and Kunshan government, many professors at Duke University questioned the decision, worrying about whether two very different universities with distinguished systems and backgrounds could eventually work. In addition to that, they were also concerned for budget. Originally, Duke University planned to invest in $11 million in the first five years, but the number surged to $37 million in the ultimate official document.

Meanwhile, Duke University lowered its budget(125 million) for the campus in Durham. The main investment for Duke Kunshan came from Duke University’s business school and the university’s strategic investment fund. In the first six years, Duke University hoped to invest an annual budget of $3 million to $8 million.

After 18 months of negotiation, Duke University finally passed the proposition of Duke Kunshan in 2011. At the end of that year, Duke University’s academic committee voted (44:8) on the decision to authorize Fuqua School of Business at Duke Kunshan University with the right to hold the master degree of management studies.

In August 2012, the ministry of education approved the construction of Duke Kunshan. And after 12 months, the ministry officially approved its establishment. The university now offers four master degrees, including environmental policy, medical physics, global health, and management studies, and has set up global health research center, environmental research center, WHU-DUKE research institute etc.

In August 2014, Duke Kunshan held its very first school opening ceremony. The terrifying Zhongrong explosion incident also took place during that period.

Out of the ivory tower

Gao Haiyan was a crazed Yue opera fan in middle school. She even wanted to join the Yue opera company when taking the college entrance exam. At that time, she would never have thought that she would become the department head of Physics after Professor Henry Newson, and later the vice president of Duke Kunshan.

Gao Haiyan went to California Institute of Technology after graduating from Tsinghua University to further her studies. She was once confused as well, didn’t have a clear vision for her future. But what she knew was that she loved physics and she wanted to get a Ph.D and work in an university. That was Gao Haiyan in the 90s.

With the goal of spearheading the future of higher education, Duke Kunshan University is influenced and informed by both Chinese and American traditions of higher education. The shared vision of Duke University and Wuhan University is that Duke Kunshan will help address the changing needs of global higher education. Their rich heritage inspires Duke Kunshan University to pursue academic excellence and integrity and to apply classroom knowledge in service to society.

The establishment of the master degrees at Duke Kunshan was not job-oriented. Instead, the university hopes to inspire students to master academically rigorous course work, generate new ideas and develop creative solutions to the world’s challenges, preparing them not just for careers in specific fields, but to become globally sophisticated leaders and citizens. However, the higher education environment in China is turning more and more realistic and pragmatic. Can Duke Kunshan achieve its ideal goal?

Gao Haiyan told TMTPost that besides training students to have a global outlook and open mindset, the university has two undergraduate curriculums: 4+1 and 3+1+1. To put it simply, after five years of studies, undergraduates at Duke Kunshan would be able to acquire a bachelor degree and a master degree(one year).

During the past two decades, more and more young people are choosing computer science and economics as their major, while putting physics and mathematics etc. on the cold bench. When Gao Haiyan was still in the U.S, she thought that such tendency was very common. She believes that as science and technology develop, things will gradually change.

“For instance, in physics, the demand for the particle detection capability of detector is getting higher,” Professor Gao Haiyan said, illustrating her point with an example. “With the demand comes breakthroughs in technology, which will eventually bring about new applications.” The development of business and technology is reliant on fundamental science research. And such belief is even more evident in Duke Kunshan’s medical and health programs.

“The country needs different talents. We should encourage children to make their own exploration, and they will find what they love,” Gao Haiyan told TMTPost, believing that young people’s curiosity and career needs will only be satisfied when they choose the major they are interested in.

In Duke Kunshan, Canyon Dell'Omo is one of those young people that are into technology and architect.

This 20-year-old Kanye West fan loves to expressing his feelings with some f-word expression. Canyon first studied bioengineering for three semesters and then transferred to biology. On one hand, he thought that the former major was too theoretical and he didn’t have much time to invest into academic studies since he started his own company WorkerSense.

Canyon Dell

Canyon Dell'Omo

At nature, he dislikes the way Steve Jobs worked and the Apple co-founder’s personality. In one interview he even called Steve Jobs an asshole and Bill Gates a nerd. Compared with Elon Musk, Canyon sees a DJ named Spencer Bruno more of a role model as Bruno inspire him to go for his dream and never give up.

Canyon and his friends designed a sensory ring install it inside a helmet. With the ring, he is able to collect, analyze and monitor seven indicators of a construction sites and break them into 15 to 16 fundamental data. Thus he can improve shift management, track production efficiency and predict performance. According to him, this product possesses great cloud capacity.

“From my point of view, if I can learn something useful in the classroom, then it’s exciting and I will study hard. Duke University provides us with multiple choices, which satisfies my demand. If I couldn’t learn relevant knowledge in the classroom, then I will study it myself.” Canyon’s product sounds sophisticated, but as a matter of fact, he mostly learned to make it through Google and Youtube.

However, this young man still attributes 70% of his success to Duke University. He believes that the university has provided him with advance facilities to achieve his ideas.

Duke University also has an active entrepreneurship scene that gives Canyon an edge. He joined in the Innovation Co-Lab, a project that provides small funding for students to kickstart their business. The funding is given to students unconditionally. The sensory ring is the third product coming from Canyon and his fist two efforts didn’t work out. During summer in 2015, Canyon also participated in the Melissa & Doug Entrepreneurs summer program, which gave him plenty of industry insights.

Duke Kunshan has high hopes for its students, wishing that they could bring about innovative solutions to today’s global challenges. That’s why how to turn academic achievements into applications is a crucial field at Duke Kunshan besides entrepreneurship. Canyon started his business out of interest, and the young man I am going to talk about is a representative of another ideal state that Duke Kunshan values.

Nick Peoples was sitting right across me in an evening, massaging his head to drive away the sleepiness and drinking strong coffee. Then he took a deep breath and started to tell his stories.

This young man from Houston did a biochemistry degree for his bachelors. At that time, his plan was go to a big city and become a doctor there after graduation. However, to enroll in a med school requires volunteer experience, and he went to Latin America with his classmates where he experienced things that left him feel powerless.

After returning to America, he decided to make helping people in poor health condition his life goal. At the age of 19, he started to study global health at Duke Kunshan. He chose Duke Kunshan over The Johns Hopkins University because Duke Kunshan provides him with a funding of $8,000 for three-month overseas project.

“This career fits my personality and interest. I want to do something that I would be proud of. The salary is not a priority, as long as it pays the bills,” this young man has his own logic of employment and salary. “It’s true that people majoring in computer science make more money, but to be where I have been to also cost a lot!”

At present, Nick feels that technology and Internet have powered the world with unprecedented conveniences and contribute to revolutionary breakthroughs in research and science development.

“For instance, inHealth can push messages to users’ smartphone, notifying them to take their medications regularly. Social platforms can help raise funds,” Nick said. Just weeks before our interview took place, one of his classmates participated in his thesis defense in China via the phone, while his advisor was in Duke Univeristy in America and the collaborative organization was in Tanzania.

The revolutionary changes brought by technologies not only benefit us, but also bring about challenges and confusion to global health.

Nick had learned from his advisor and the experience of the global health field accumulated for over a decade to always stay humble facing developing regions that are in need of help. He continues to push himself to understand and adjust to different cultural backgrounds, systems and the differences brought by development gap.

The goal of global health studies is not about being at the forefront saving lives, or shortening the gap, but helping local people become capable of solving their problems without the aid of NGOs.

“There is no one ultimate cure for all. We have to treat people fairly and attend to different demands,” he said at last.

In summer next year, this young master student at Duke Kunshan will be cooperating with International Organization for Migration, directed by the UN, to do field study in the Philippines and work with local government on medical and hygiene solution for immigrant workers.

At Duke Kunshan, young people like these are the majority. They represent the future of this university and connect China and America, showcasing new possibilities of cooperated university.

Professor David Brady has shown us the localization value of Duke Kunshan with the gigapixel camera. From this very moment, this university is slowly pushing the second evolution of the city with its industry+research mechanism.

In January 2017, the Computing Image Technology Research Center of Duke Kunshan, led by Professor Brady, was founded. Besides the university, Kunshan Industrial Research Institute and a tech company also helped establish the research center, in an attempt to promote the research and development of gigapixel camera and its commercial promotion. Kunshan Industrial Research Institute provides space for the research center and operation funding, while the tech company is in charge of product R&D and commercial promotion.

This technology is mainly applied in fields such as public security, virtual reality, robotics, and drones etc. A few years ago, Professor Brady had already developed a three-gigapixel camera prototype. But the high production cost and the over size eventually killed the prototype.

Kunshan happens to be an industrial hub with manufacturing experience and advantages accumulated for decades. Camera and optical-nachanics factories are also important pillars of Kunshan’s manufacturing industry. This naturally gives Professor Brady an edge in converting his research results into applications and products. As a matter of fact, this is the very first step of combining research, academic and industrial scenes for Kunshan.

Today’s China is standing at a turning point, desperately wanting to get a fresh taste of the new world, and so does Kunshan.

At present, Duke Kunshan still faces an undeveloped wild land, literally, waiting to further expand. It’s just like the Kunshan county back in the early 80s when the reform and opening up policy was launched.


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[The article is published and edited with authorization from the author @Hu Yong, please note source and hyperlink when reproduce.]

Translated by Garrett Lee (Senior Translator at PAGE TO PAGE), working for TMTpost.





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