New private university to issue PhDs

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China's first private university aimed at cultivating high-level talent in advanced technology and reaching the forefront of scientific research has won approval to open in Hangzhou, capital of Zhejiang province, officials announced on Monday.

Approved by the Ministry of Education, Westlake University will be a new type of research-oriented university, with emphasis on basic and advanced scientific and technological research.

Launched by the Hangzhou Westlake Education Foundation, the university will be a nonprofit organization for higher education and advanced academic research. The university's plan shows it will enroll a total of 1,220 full-time students during the next five years, growing to 5,000 students after a decade.

Expectations have been running high as the university, the brainchild of a group of top Chinese academics, will be the country's first private doctorate-granting university. One aim is to rival international counterparts such as Rockefeller University and the California Institute of Technology.

Before it acquires the rights to grant PhDs, the university will have to recruit and train doctoral students in association with China's prestigious Fudan and Zhejiang universities. The first 19 PhD candidates were enrolled in September. It plans to recruit 130 more this year.

Initial construction for its main campus, the Yungu Campus, in the Shuangqiao section of Hangzhou's Xihu district, is expected to break ground soon and be completed and handed over for use by the end of 2020, according to Zhejiang Daily.

Based on the four research institutes of the Westlake Institute for Advanced Study, which served as the university's precursor, it will establish schools of life and medical sciences, natural sciences, and engineering, forming 12 disciplines in science, medicine and engineering, and will subsequently establish a school of humanities and social sciences, the university said.

The university will recruit academically accomplished senior professors and promising early career scientists and implement a tenure-track system. It has conducted six worldwide searches and recruited 58 faculty members.

A president will bear responsibility for the university under a board of directors. Westlake University will establish a board of supervisors, advisory committee, council, academic committee and academic degrees committee. It will establish a system of university governance featuring scholarly research, democratic management and social participation.

So far, the nomination and screening of its board directors has "entered the substantial stage", it said.

Zhejiang Daily reported on Monday that Shi Yigong, a Princeton University-trained molecular biologist and president of the Westlake Institute for Advanced Study, plans to accept an offer to be the university's first president. A spokeswoman for the new university declined to comment on the matter when contacted by China Daily.

Zhou Guping, a professor at Zhejiang University's College of Education and vice-president of the Zhejiang Society of Education, told China Daily on Monday she hopes establishment of the university will be a forerunner to break China's unbalanced layout of higher education resources.

"Resources of China's advanced higher education have long been centralized in metropolises such as Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing and Xi'an. I hope the emergence of Westlake University will break such a situation," she said.

She also said this will be the first time for a private higher institution to possess such a huge talent pool of advanced academics, which will definitely improve the level of higher education in Zhejiang.

The establishment of Westlake University was initiated by a team of seven top Chinese academics, including Shi, in March 2015. The approval of establishing Westlake marks a new stage: construction and development.

"This is a leap in the development of the university, as well as a singular moment in China's higher education reform and development," the university said in a release.

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