Image: University of Science and Technology China, Anhui, China 


Information science research is transforming the future landscape of our world at a rapid pace. Thanks to technology being developed by the University in collaboration with Chinese scientists, Birmingham is leading the way, from tracking consumer behaviour and pioneering smartphone capability to mapping underground energy systems and healthcare technology. 

The University of Birmingham has partnered the University of Science and Technology China (USTC), the country’s leading institution for science, for over decade and has seen growing scholarly exchange and knowledge transfer. Building on the success of a dedicated research laboratory for nature inspired computation set up in 2003, the institutions set up a formal research institute, 'the USTC-Birmingham Joint Research Institute in Intelligent Computation and Its Applications', in 2010.

Professor Xin Yao, Professor of Computer Science and Director of the joint USTC-Birmingham Research Institute, and Professor Ian McLoughlin Professor in Electronic Engineering and Information Science at USTC and Birmingham alumnus, have both embraced travel in their research endeavours and understand first-hand the significance of international collaboration.

Professor Xin Yao, who received his PhD from USTC, currently leads the USTC-Birmingham Joint Research Institute in Intelligent Computation and its Applications: ‘An energetic young team’ (in his own words) of five full-time faculty members forming a critical mass of expertise in intelligent computation. 


Read more about Professor Yao

Professor Ian McLoughlin’s 22 year-career which includes work across three continents, for multinationals, big and small industries, charities, consultancies and academia began at the School of Electronic, Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Birmingham, where he received his undergraduate degree.


Read more about Professor McLoughlin

Leading the USTC-Birmingham Joint Research Institute in Intelligent Computation and Its Applications, Xin Yao has mapped research focuses and demands onto expertise among colleagues in both Birmingham and USTC to ensure a critical mass that can pioneer developments. Xin said: “There is a good match between expertise at Birmingham and USTC and the Institute brings together a range of skills and approaches as well as local and international knowledge. 

“This is a busy field and one which many people are interested in at the moment. What sets our research institute and our projects apart is our approach; we look at nature inspired approaches, systems that are inspired and/or borrow ideas from natural systems, including biological, ecological, physical, chemical, economic and social systems. This is unique in the field and we have attracted the world’s best experts to help bring our projects forward.”

Ian’s career has been propelled by travel and and shaped by international partnerships and collaborations such as the University of Birmingham and USTC relationship. He said: “International collaboration is a win-win situation for the institutions and researchers. It can play to the strengths of both ‘teams’, avoiding local weaknesses and leveraging on special talents present in both teams. In particular I have found that funding agencies are quite keen on good international research projects.

“I think that exchange programmes are as important as international collaboration. They directly benefit the recipients, who find that they will learn new ways of thinking and working, as well as gain insights and understanding that they may never achieve if they stay in their home country. Indirectly, these recipients will then benefit their employers and supervisors with their new knowledge and skills. Upon return to their home country, they will have become much more valuable employees and students.”

Ian adds: “A deepening USTC-Birmingham relationship, ongoing student exchanges, and active collaborations, allow us to build a welcoming overseas home for academics and students who would like to learn more about a major foreign culture: and this applies bidirectionally. Add to this the improved funding and publications opportunities, and the ease of attracting good students (who might see a short exchange stint overseas as a real benefit), and the benefits become easier to envisage. Just as many consider Birmingham to be a much less intimidating big city than most in the UK, so Hefei is more friendly and easy going than its bigger cousins. There is a new and exciting culture to explore, interesting new places to see, friendly people to meet, opportunities to be found, and success to be made. Who would not be interested in all that?”

At Birmingham too, Xin is an advocate for exchange programmes and he recognises the importance of international knowledge transfer and collaboration. His team are supported by EPSRC enabling them to create synergy in collaboration, which benefits students as well as researchers by providing opportunity to learn from the world’s best. He comments: “The University encourages staff to make the most of opportunities such as the Marie Curie exchange programme, which enables us to send researchers to spend time in China and vice-versa for periods between 1 and 12 months. This provides invaluable international experience for young, aspiring scientists.”

This article was written for the University of Birmingham staff magazine, Buzz