Guo Yiming November 1, 2016.
In his ambitious blueprint, Li Xiaokun, President of Wenzhou University, said that he wants to transform the school into a Chinese version of Stanford by encouraging innovation and entrepreneurship.
Founded in 1933, the university is nestled in Wenzhou, a coastal city in East China’s Zhejiang Province, where self-made millionaires abound and locals are known among their fellow countrymen as having the “business gene”. The city is a major source of “Made in China” goods, such as shoes and clothes, with its success riding on an export-oriented economy.
“Wenzhounese, known as the Jews of the Orient, are innovative, open-minded, self-reliant and business savvy people, who can sense opportunities and transform them into commercial success,” Dr. Li told China.org.cn during an exclusive interview.
As first prize winner for the 2015 National Scientific and Technological Progress Award, the charismatic president believes that Wenzhou is the best place to convert scientific advances into economic and social benefits.
He confessed that the innovation and entrepreneurship spirit deeply rooted in the city is one of the most important reasons he came to work here almost 10 years ago.
Tapping into the “business gene”
Walking on the campus, one is never sure whether the student you just encountered with will be another billionaire like Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba.
Wenzhou University is one of China’s first schools of higher learning to have introduced a flagship entrepreneurial education project while tapping into a business-oriented climate.
Boasting a flexible educational system, the university allows students to suspend courses for business-endeavors and encourages them to convert creative ideas into commercial projects. Feasible and detailed business plans can also serve as a student’s graduation thesis or project.
“Entrepreneurial education in Wenzhou University ranks 11th in the country,” said the helmsman of the university.
He also added that the school especially values application-oriented teaching and learning, as it invites chief engineers from established companies to design curriculums and asks them to join the faculty in order to impart hands-on practice and experience in real-life business scenarios.
“Foreign students on the campus are also inspired by the business-friendly atmosphere here,” Li revealed. “Some of them have started businesses in the city after they learned Chinese language, culture and entrepreneurial skills.”
Eyes on the “Belt and Road”
As part of its 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-2020), the school aims high on China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which is comprised of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, and tries to incorporate its globalized strategy into the country’s flagship project.
“The Belt and Road Initiative is not only about setting up businesses, making infrastructure investment or cooperating on production capacity,” he argued. “It is also about education, cultural communication, people-to-people exchanges and expanding China’s soft power.”
The school has decided to channel more efforts towards its globalized strategy and plans to recruit 1,500 more foreign students, mainly from countries along the Belt and Road region, in the next five years, said Feng Fangsheng, vice director of the school’s publicity department.
Some of the foreign students have come here to stay – starting their businesses and settling down in this land of dynamism – while others take their knowledge of China back to their home country and contribute to local operations of Chinese overseas ventures.
Dr. Li believes that people and education are essential to the success of the Belt and Road Initiative, and hopes that Wenzhou University can make a difference on this front.
The university has also explored various school-running modes like public-private and Chinese-foreign cooperation, with the notable example of Wenzhou-Kean University, founded in 2014.
Founding this university based on quality educational resources in both innovation and entrepreneurship will “generate huge energy that facilitates socio-economic development in the region”, as Xi Jinping said in 2006 while serving as party chief of Zhejiang Province.
When asked about his vision for the school, Dr. Li compared it to a “soaring petrel,” quoting several lines from “the Song of the Stormy Petrel” by Maxim Gorky.
“Up above the sea’s grey flatland, wind is gathering the clouds; in between the sea and clouds proudly soaring the Petrel, reminiscent of black lightning.”