China's Ministry of Education has officially approved Westlake University, a private institute that is something of an anomaly in the country's tertiary education sector.
Public universities and research institutes dominate the scientific disciplines in China, drawing the brightest minds and the bulk of available funding. But Westlake, the country's first private comprehensive institute for advanced scientific study, has been supported by the national government as a key project, though it is privately funded and run. According to state media outlet People's Daily, the ministry's approval marks a new era for public-private partnerships.
Westlake enrolled its first batch of 19 students — all doctoral-level or above — during the fall 2017 semester but was classified as a "research institute for advanced study" until March 20, when its university status was approved. The news was published on the ministry's social media accounts on Monday.
The school has attracted plenty of attention since it was first proposed in 2015, and many hold high hopes for its potential to cultivate top talent. It already has a star-studded roster of backers: quantum physicist Pan Jianwei; well-known economist and former University of California, Berkeley, professor Qian Yingyi; Alibaba chief technology officer Wang Jian; and Shi Yigong, a structural biologist and a former Princeton University professor who is Westlake's co-founder and acting president.
Photo: Shi Yigong
In a public speech in December, Shi predicted that the institution would be at the forefront of scientific research in Asia within five years, and one of the world's top educational institutions within 15 years. The institute will employ 200 professors and 2,000 researchers, its website says, across its four departments: biology, medical science, natural sciences, and advanced technology.
In January, Shi resigned as vice president of Tsinghua University, a public university that is often referred to as "China's MIT," to focus on his role at Westlake.
Westlake University's funding comes from donations, tuition, and research projects, as well as government subsidies, according to People's Daily. For now, the school is only accepting doctoral candidates or above, though it aims to expand to include undergraduate programs.