Year of the Monkey heralds golden opportunity for Chinese research partnerships

As we enter the Chinese Year of the Monkey in 2016, a new year brings fresh opportunity for the UK to continue building its relationship with China in many areas, not least academic research. Despite perceived difficulties, such as dealing with the Chinese language, culture, and governmental system, these concerns are often based on misconception and are not insurmountable barriers.

China is an appealing place for Britain’s universities to conduct research. The country’s ambitions for its 1.37 billion people, the scale of its activities, and the speed of change are all without compare and are built around some very grand challenges. Tackling these challenges is driving many unique research opportunities.

China has big plans to match its economic ascendency. Massive investment aims to emulate the historic Silk Road and maritime trading routes. China’s energy industry plans to establish a global energy internet that relies almost solely on renewable sources. And the next person to step on the Moon may well be Chinese.

Infrastructure investments in China have created high quality research laboratories with cutting edge equipment, but institutions can lack individuals with the skills required to use these to their full potential. This gives UK-based researchers an opportunity to engage in a market that presents frontline access to tackle the greatest challenges of the day, that are relevant not only in China but to the whole world.

Research in China is of a rapidly rising standard that is competing at the highest level across many subjects. The University of Birmingham’s ambition is to work with Chinese universities of a high calibre, and in so doing help our own international standing. Many UK universities will benefit from a similar approach.

The University of Birmingham is working across a range of research disciplines in partnership with counterparts in China. Whether assessing air pollution and its impact on human health, calculating the impact of environmental degradation by monitoring the lowly water flea or delivering cutting edge research into train efficiency and track safety, our researchers are working with some of China’s biggest companies and institutions on research that will change lives for the better.

With such a massive population, the provision of health care looms large amongst the Chinese government’s challenges. China’s health system relies heavily on hospitals and lacks the GP-led approach found in the UK. Birmingham is working with the major health bureaux in China to help implement primary care and train those who will make this a reality on the ground.

The problem of global antibiotic resistance is nowhere more apparent than in China. We have a long-standing involvement in clinical microbiology research in China that is helping to steer health policy in this area.

Chinese culture, politics, and religion play a large part in shaping the country, its development and its interactions with the rest of the world. Here too there are many opportunities for fruitful academic collaborations between the UK and China. The Birmingham Business School, for example, has a multitude of research connections in banking and finance, commercialisation, and service provision, whilst the Shakespeare Institute and the Ironbridge Institute have strong links around cultural heritage.

Research undertaken in China should drive changes that improve people’s lives, and enhance Birmingham’s reputation in China and internationally as a trusted, authoritative source in the areas in which it excels.

During President Xi’s recent state visit to the UK, he called this the Golden Age of cooperation between China and the Britain. The Year of the Monkey presents many opportunities for UK universities to forge closer research ties with China and deliver mutually rewarding partnerships that change lives.

Professor Jon Frampton, Deputy Pro Vice Chancellor (China) and Director of the China Institute, January 2016.