University chief confident of success in transforming academic excellence

Bringing Nottingham to Ningbo

In an exclusive interview with BEIJING REVIEW staff reporter Feng Jianhua, Ian Gow, Managing Deputy President of the University of Nottingham Ningbo, China, shared his view on the issues of higher education in China.

BEIJING REVIEW: Where does your confidence to serve as the managing deputy president of the University of Nottingham Ningbo come from?

Professor Ian Gow

IAN GOW: I’ve been engaged in Asian studies for a long time and I have special interest in Chinese studies. In 1997 and 1998, I visited China twice with a British delegation. I saw for myself that higher education in China was undergoing great changes. At that time, I had not yet worked at the University of Nottingham. But during my visit to China, I met Sir Colin Campbell, Vice Chancellor of the University of Nottingham. He was very keen to expand Nottingham interests in China and knew that I was an Asia specialist (Japan) and had some background in Chinese studies. He invited me to work at the University of Nottingham Business School and assist him with the development of a Nottingham Asia and especially China strategy.

My confidence also comes from the support of others. The top decision makers at the University of Nottingham have given full support to this project and to me. And Chinese governments at all levels have been very active and cooperative. It also helps that the administrative and managerial concepts of Ningbo Wanli College are very professional, effective and can help a new university succeed in China. Mme Xu Yafen, Chairperson of Wanli Education Group and Chair of Zhejiang Wanli University, has an admirable record of innovation in internationalization of Chinese education. Finally I have President Yang Fujia, academician and former president of Fudan University, who is internationally recognized as a top academic manager as my mentor and guide. Apart from all this, my wife, who is staying with me, has been one of my biggest supporters.

Why did the university choose to establish a branch in China?

China will be one of the most important countries in the 21st century. There are quite a number of Chinese study projects at the University of Nottingham. Establishing a branch here will help us know more about China.

I know that lots of Chinese students go to other countries for further study these days. They have to pay high tuition but some of them do not actually get a quality education. One of the reasons the University of Nottingham set up a branch in China is to offer those excellent students a world-class education at a lower price. Both sides have agreed that one of the principles of the university branch is non-profit.

In addition, there is a lot of talent in China. The University of Nottingham will be dedicated to the cultivation of talent and thus create “fortune” for China and academic talent to work at Nottingham in the future.

Does the University of Nottingham have the right to launch a school independently here?

I should say that within current Chinese law, we’re provided with large freedom. We were invited by the Chinese Government to launch a school here. We have the say on what courses are offered and teaching methods. There is no problem with that.

Academic freedom is very important for the world’s top universities. The University of Nottingham has that. Though there is no absolute academic freedom in any country, my expectations are high, so I’m expecting to have more freedom.

Of course, we cannot just simply copy all the ideas of the University of Nottingham into our China curriculum. My PhD dissertation was about politics and I know much about Chinese politics. Nevertheless, for some non-principal issues, we’ll have somewhat “Chinese characteristics.”

Are there still any policies that block the university’s development?

The University of Nottingham Ningbo is the first school for us under the Chinese Government. Governments at all levels are seeking more perfect policies. We’re also continuing to study related Chinese policies and improve our ability to make use of these policies.

Since joining the WTO, China’s higher education should gradually open to other countries. The governments at all levels in China have shown interest in Sino-foreign schools. Policies are more and more relaxed. We may encounter some problems in our management of the school, but these problems will be gradually solved. There won’t be obstacles for the University of Nottingham Ningbo to develop into a top university in the world. It is during the process of solving problems that we learn.

I heard that 72 lecturers have been recruited from the University of Nottingham in England to come to teach in Ningbo soon. How would you ensure that these lecturers would be dedicated to teaching in China?

Apart from offering them higher salaries than those in Nottingham, we’ll provide big support for their research to make sure that teaching in China won’t hinder their academic pursuits. We also offer support to their families as an incentive.

What are some plans for the University of Nottingham Ningbo?

Being the managing deputy president of the University of Nottingham Ningbo is a big challenge for me, maybe the biggest in my life. I hope that within 10 years, the University of Nottingham Ningbo will become a prestigious university in China, and even in the world. We have confidence in that.

We also hope that high-quality textbooks and teaching methods we introduce can be of help to the internationalization of Chinese higher education. We hope that we can serve as a good example for other universities that want to enter China.

How far does China have to go before its universities become world class?

China does not have any universities in the top 200 in the world at this moment. But it does have some of the world’s top research institutes. Having no top universities is the result of government neglect of higher education in the past and the absolute dominance of the appraisal system of Western higher education. China may also have the same problems as Japan faces. Since lots of valuable papers are not published in English, they do not raise the attention of international academic circles. This has undoubtedly been an obstacle to the world recognizing China’s academic output.

Lots of foreigners are coming to China to teach and lots of Chinese are going abroad to study. Chinese universities and educational departments are looking at successful experiences at those world famous universities, trying to cooperate with those schools to learn from them. All this has greatly internationalized Chinese universities. I believe that in not too much time, China will have a number of its key universities in the world’s top 100 and personally, I believe the time it needs will be less than 10 years.

Are you satisfied with your life in Ningbo?

I’ve been very happy here and have made quite a lot of Chinese friends. Recently, I made a short trip to a scenic spot called Zhangjiajie, in central China. It was a very beautiful place. Before that, I also went to many other beautiful places such as Hangzhou and Suzhou. There are lots of beautiful places in China but, regretfully, I do not have time to visit all of them now.

The other day, I found out that there are still many children who cannot afford to go to school in China. So, when I have spare time, I’ll go to see some elementary schools associated with Project Hope in poor areas. I’m ready to do something for them.


Ian Gow is professor of Asian Business and Vice President (Asia) of the University of Nottingham as well as CEO and Executive Vice President of the University of Nottingham Ningbo China at the coastal city of Ningbo in Zhejiang Province. He is mainly responsible for the development and implementation of Nottingham’s academic work in China both at the Nottingham campus and in China.

He was formerly vice president and head of the business school at both the University of Stirling in Scotland and Sheffield in England.

He has strongly supported the development of Chinese studies and Sino-British relations. Gow was responsible for the establishment of the Center of Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Sheffield and was the founding director of the Institute of Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Nottingham.