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“Impressive initiative in China by KTH”

Vinnova’s expert praises the strategy of presence in China

Published Apr 19, 2010

KTH is making an impressive and exemplary effort in China. And the best thing is KTH’s physical presence in the country, otherwise it would be difficult to understand the conditions behind China’s rapidly expanding economy. This is what Sylvia Schwaag Serger says, she is Europe’s perhaps foremost expert on Chinese research and innovation policies.

“I have personally visited KTH’s research centre in Zhejiang and can state that KTH’s initiatives in China are ambitious and strategically well designed. The fact that Sweden is investing more in cooperation with the Chinese by being in China is extremely important in several ways,” says Sylvia Schwaag Serger, manager of Vinnova’s international department.

Sylvia Schwaag Serger is one of Europe’s foremost experts within her area. Previously she has been a scientific adviser at the Swedish Institute for Growth Policy Studies and has had several assignments as an expert on China at the OECD and the European commission. She has most recently been involved in the OECD’s first evaluation of China’s innovation system.

Her line of thought over the past few years has been that Sweden, to an increasing extent, must become involved with successful knowledge and innovation environments and with important markets outside of the country. She therefore regards KTH’s increasing presence in China as extremely positive. It will create an important link to the future users of new technology which to a great extent will be the Chinese, she says.

“Otherwise what could go wrong is that we in Sweden and Europe may believe that we can quite simply develop innovative developments here at home. But we should not forget perhaps that the needs and requirements of the Chinese are completely different. So a physical presence is important not just for the sake of research but also to understand China’s market for the production of goods and services,” she says.

KTH, an important bridge

Besides the fact that China is one of the most important future markets for technological innovation, Sylvia Schwaag Serger points to the country’s scientific strength and human capital (students and researchers) as two important aspects. The problem is however that too few Swedish students and scientists are interested in going to China for a longer period of time and that Chinese researchers on their part do not have the opportunities or good conditions to work in Sweden.

“But I believe that KTH’s centre in China can be an important bridge. It will form a natural link to increased presence between the countries.

Another crucial element in this context is student activities, she says. KTH over the past few years has had several meetings on behalf of KTH’s Chinese ex-students in China.

“This is extremely important. Just look at the successes that Silicon Valley has had. The Chinese and Indian students at the universities have played an important role.

Contacts created through the students are incredibly important components needed to create reciprocal human capital, where researchers across country borders can cooperate and exchange ideas with each other.

The large market remains

When Sylvia Schwaag Serger studied publications from Swedish-Chinese research collaboration, she discovered that KTH was way ahead compared to other Swedish universities.

“Compared to other countries, Sweden on the whole is doing very well as regards co-publications with Chinese researchers. And many of the Swedish joint publications come from KTH, so KTH’s involvement has also left its mark.

Sylvia Schwaag Serger certainly believes that KTH has an excellent reputation in many areas throughout China, but there nevertheless remains a large market to break into.

“The Chinese that know of KTH have a positive understanding of KTH as a university with a good reputation. But there are far too few people in China that are aware of any Swedish university at all. Most Chinese people say: “If I cannot get into a Chinese university, I might consider going to the United States or Great Britain”. So there is a great deal for the Swedish schools of learning to work with.

Text: Christer Gummeson

KTH in China

KTH began its venture in China following a delegation from KTH that visited the country in 2003. Today KTH has established seven joint research centres and three Swedish-Chinese offices at Chinese universities. In 2005, a scholarship programme was started which has provided 70 students and researchers from China each year with the possibility of working at KTH.

KTH also has student exchange agreements with eight universities in the country and has arranged a number of student meetings in China. In addition to this, a number of other activities and forms of cooperation between individual researchers has been carried out. The subject areas are primarily to do with energy and the environment, material and information and communication technology.