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Xiamen University: bringing together outstanding talents and building academic strength

XMUICE    Public:ICE    Datetime:2011/4/26

Over recent years, the main thrust of Xiamen University´s development has been into building the University into a high-level university well-known both at home and abroad. To this end, the University has attached great importance to developing talents and has put considerable effort behind a plan to build up its academic strength through a strategy of attracting academics of the highest level of talent and creativity. It has implemented a range of measures aimed at encouraging them to join the University, including creating beneficial conditions for their development and encouraging a favourable climate for their work. Over the period of the 11th Five-year Plan, the University estimates that over 740 high-level talents in various fields were attracted. These included more than 110 professors:

  • 16 through the "Recruitment Programme of Global Experts";
  • 6 Chief Scientists under the National Basic Research Programme - also known as the 973 Programme;
  • 7 Distinguished Professors under the Chang Jiang Scholars Programme;
  • 4 winners of National Science Fund awards for Distinguished Young Scholars;
  • 6 listed in the National Hundred, Thousand and Ten Thousand Talent Project;
  • 59 under the "New Century Excellent University Talents" programme of the Ministry of Education;
  • 34 Distinguished Professors under the Minjiang Scholarship scheme.

The accession of these renowned scholars has enabled Xiamen University to make considerable progress in the development of disciplines, the training of experts and in teaching and research and has made Xiamen University a place for gathering expertise, and become an incentive for attracting more top scholars.

Measures to attract talents: Professor Li Ning

At the age of 30, Professor Li Ning was appointed a Life Fellow of the Los Alamos National Laboratory in the US, and went on to become the first Nuclear Industry Fellow at Los Alamos and principal researcher of the civilian nuclear programme. He was concurrently the Asian Director of the Terra Energy Corporation, founded and funded by Bill Gates. Professor Li, now 46, is one of the globally-recognised, leading experts on heavy liquid metal cooling technology and in materials science, having been responsible for a number of breakthroughs in the industry. He has been awarded the US National Laboratory Achievement Award and was the recipient of the 2006 Asian American Engineer of the Year Award.
In 2008, Professor Li Ning on holiday in China and took the opportunity to visit Xiamen University, where he received a warm welcome. The University´s leaders asked him for his advice on the development of energy studies as a discipline at the University. During the discussions, Professor Li Ning came to understand the plans for the development of nuclear energy in Fujian Province and the University´s plans for an academic discipline in Energy Studies. The University leaders maintained their contact with Professor Li and finally offered him an "olive branch". In February 2009, Professor Li had the courage to quit his job in the world´s top laboratory and return to China to become a Distinguished Professor and the Dean of the School of Energy Research. He said he wanted to "think, undertake, and achieve something great" in the field of energy development. The exciting prospect of nuclear energy developments in Fujian Province was a major reason for choosing Xiamen University, while the University´s wanting to make energy research a new area of growth exactly met his requirements.
Before Professor Li joined Xiamen University, energy research at the University was limited to basic research and applied basic research, with a gap in nuclear energy research. After only one year under the leadership of Professor Li, research into clean energy technology had come into full blossom. The School of Energy Research had achieved much in attracting and building a talented team, together with developing the discipline and the teaching. The School also meets the planning and technology needs of enterprises, local government, and Fujian Province, and has established a model of development and approach to engineering technology.
While Professor Li´s main reason for joining Xiamen University may have been his career, the University also has other attractions for talented scholars, including personal relations, the working environment, and financial reward. Professor Zhu Zhiwen, the Chairman of the Xiamen University Council, and Professor Zhu Chongshi, the President, are well known for their appreciation of talents. The professors in the various schools and colleges frequently recommend outstanding scholars in their fields to the two leaders, who remember their names and seize the opportunity to talk with them when they visit Xiamen University, exchanging ideas and trying to help find solutions to their difficulties and problems. Many Xiamen University teachers have stories to tell concerning two leaders´ sincerity and enthusiasm towards talented scholars.
In this way, Xiamen University has made itself more attractive to outstanding talents. The figures show that of the top scholars who have joined Xiamen University over the past five years, 179, representing a quarter of the total number, came from well-known universities and research institutions. The list includes Professor Han Jiahuai, a winner of the Chang Jiang Scholar Award, Professor Yuan Li, the Chief Scientist of the National Basic Research Programme, Professor Zhang Xiaokun and Professor Xu Huaxi, from the Burnham Institute in California, Professor Lin Boqiang, the eminent energy economist, and Professor Liu Qinghuo from Duke University.

Creating beneficial conditions for development: Professor Hong Yongmiao

On midsummer afternoons, Professor Hong Yongmiao, the Dean of the Wang Ya´nan Institute for Studies in Economics of Xiamen University, can be seen sitting and talking with a couple of dozen doctoral candidates. However, not so long ago, Prof. Hong was a professor at Cornell University. For Xiamen University, he was an alumnus and a Visiting Professor. However, in 2005 Prof. Hong was invited to Xiamen University to become the Dean of the Wang Ya´nan Institute for Studies in Economics. Since then, he has built the Institute up into the best modern economics teaching and research institute, not only in China but in the whole Asia-Pacific region.
In 2008, the Quarterly Journal of Economics showed that Xiamen University ranked the third after Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and Wuhan University reported that of the papers listed on SSCI cited economics journals in English published between 1998 and 2007, the majority had been produced by the Wang Ya´nan Institute which was only established in 2005. In December 2009, the establishment of the Ministry of Education Xiamen University Econometrics Key Laboratory was approved, the first key laboratory in economics to combine both the sciences and the arts, opening new channels of exchange and communication with foreign counterparts and raising the strength and global reputation of Xiamen University in traditional economic research.
Xiamen University has made a point of giving the green light in teaching and research to such scholars and set up a special policy area in economics. When the Wang Ya´nan Institute for Studies in Economics was founded in 2005, Prof. Hong recognised that, to achieve sustainable development, the Institute needed to step up the training of young scholars: "At the time of its foundation, it was essential to send young teachers to study abroad." Although the University has regulations covering length of service before a young teacher can be sent abroad, to Prof. Hong´s surprise, he was able to persuade the relevant leaders and departments to support his needs. In mid-2005, the first group of new teachers were selected for studies overseas, and set off. In the Institute´s first three years, 15 young teachers were sent to study in foreign universities. In due course they returned to Xiamen University and have become the backbone of teaching and research in economics.
Looking back, Professor Hong says, "Over these years, Xiamen University has given to the Wang Ya´nan Institute many special rights and considerable support in terms of policy, funding, and its environment, without which the Institute would not have been able to achieve so much."
One of the principles applied by Xiamen University in this is that it is not sufficient to attract such talents, but it is essential to retain them and help them develop. In any new discipline or Institute, you will find be a well-known name: Professor Li Ning, the Dean of School of Energy Research; Professor Hong Yongmiao, the Dean of the Wang Ya´nan Institute for Studies in Economics; Professor Lin Boqiang, the Director of China Centre for Energy Economics Research; Professor Zhang Xiaokun, the Dean of Institute for Biomedical Research - these are all experts and leaders in their filed. The new academic disciplines and Institutes at Xiamen University have been designed and established specifically as a platform for them.
President Zhu Chongshi says, "They come to Xiamen University because they want to achieve something great. So, in order to keep these talents, Xiamen University needs to establish a career platform for them on the basis of their disciplinary and other requirements. Xiamen University has abandoned the traditional approach, that of attracting scholars and assigning them to existing teams, like filling in blanks."

Encouraging a favourable climate for research: Professor Chen Xiaodong

Professor Chen Xiaodong graduated from Tsinghua University and received his PhD in chemical engineering from the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. He is Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand and of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering. At the beginning of 2010, Professor Chen Xiaodong was one of the second groups to return to China under the "Recruitment Programme of Global Experts" to become Dean of the Xiamen University Department of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering. He often says with deep emotion, "Xiamen is the home of my grandparents and Xiamen University is their Alma Mater. Even though many years have passed since the 1930s, I have a special affection for this place. I chose Xiamen and hope to be able to contribute to its construction and development."
Prof. Chen has injected fresh vitality into the Xiamen University College of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, not merely in the light and elegant offices and laboratories, which he designed, but in the field of Bio-mimetic Chemistry he instituted. Bio-mimetic Chemistry is an emerging, inter-disciplinary field with great potential for application. Associate Professor Xiao Zongyuan, Prof. Chen´s assistant, insists, "Prof. Chen has brought us the most advanced knowledge of Bio-mimetic Chemistry, which has broadened our horizons and greatly raised the overall level of chemistry research at Xiamen University."
Prof. Chen wanted to bring his teaching experience, academic guidance and research achievements to China, with the aim of fostering more excellent scholars for China´s universities and to contribute to the reform and development of higher education in China. He also wanted to make use of his strengths in industrialisation, teaching, and research for the benefit of China´s enterprises to improve their competitiveness around the world. Prof. Chen says that in returning to China, it was important to him not only to bring his personal abilities and expertise in innovation and starting a business, but also to bring a team of scholars with him to Xiamen University and to attract other outstanding scholars from both home and abroad. He has invited experts from around the world to Xiamen University as visiting scholars and has recommended Xiamen University scholars for visits abroad. Such exchanges enrich the scholars´ experience, while, at the same time, Xiamen University can benefit from the learning, research and teaching experience of other countries.
Xiamen University has taken the initiative to innovate in both systems and mechanisms, and to explore new approaches to organising and managing such talents, with the aim of establishing a long-term, effective, guarantee mechanism to meet the development needs of the talents. Xiamen University has formulated, on the basis of current national policies, a series of plans for the recruitment of top experts with the relevant regulations to accelerate reform to its systems and to improve the evaluation system. The Director of the University Personnel Division, Mr. Lin Peisan says that, through these practices, Xiamen University is providing outstanding talents with more extensive room for development.
Xiamen University Chairman, Professor Zhu Zhiwen says, "The coming decade will be an important period for Xiamen University´s development. We will devote an exceptional amount of enthusiasm, effort, and measures towards attracting top scholars to the University. In this we, we will be able to move forward in the process of making Xiamen University a high-level university well-known both at home and abroad. We will be able to provide the intellectual support and the surety of expertise needed for the economic development of Fujian Province and China as a whole."

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