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Trend-Setter and Future-Creator:Building a World-Class University Rooted in China

Release time:October 24, 2017 / Mingzhu Li

Introduction

 

With the 65th birthday of Beihang coming soon, the following article by Prof. Huibin Xu, President of Beihang University, was published in Science (20 October 2017, Vol. 358, Issue 6361). It introduced the university from the aspects of talent cultivation, academic research, faculty and international communication and cooperation, presenting Beihang as a vibrant Chinese university facing the world.

         

First page of Prof. Xu’s article in Science

 

Trend-Setter and Future-Creator:Building a World-Class University Rooted in China

By Huibin Xu

President of Beihang University, Academician, Chinese Academy of Engineering

 

President Xu

 

2017 marks the 65th anniversary of Beihang University. In October 1952, the Beijing Institute of Aeronautics, now known as Beihang University, was established by merging the departments of aeronautics from eight top Chinese universities, including Tsinghua University and Peiyang University. Beihang was the first institution of higher eductaion in aeronautics and astronautics established after the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. The aspirations, history, and development of Beihang University are closely aligned with China’s growth, rejuvenation, and social progress. Since its founding, the university has consistently ranked among China’s key academic institutions. Currently, it encompasses three campuses with over 30,000 full-time students and nearly 4,000 faculty and staff. In 2016, its grand vision of “building a world-class university rooted in China” was put forward. In 2017, Beihang was chosen to participate in the Double First-Class plan, which includes major support from the Chinese Ministry of Education and other government departments to build a world-class university with world-class disciplines.

 

Gate of Shahe Campus

 

The Beihang University Culture

 

Characterized by world-class faculty, high-caliber innovators, and first-rate scientific research, top universities around the world are expected to make significant contributions to the development of human civilization and social progress. Beihang University is no different and is committed to a global outlook, characterized by innovation and the development of state-of-the-art technologies that will establish it as a premier, forward-looking institution. Building upon its contributions to Chinese society, the university is forging a path toward world-class status based on its unique characteristics.

 

Beihang University prioritizes the cultivation of exceptional students, adhering to the ideology of “nurturing top students into first-class talents”. Through its two-pronged approach of building both knowledge and technical competency, it has equipped China’s aerospace industry and national infrastructure with leaders and innovators who have spread the “Beihang spirit” around the world. In 2017, the university is undergoing the largest reform in its academic structure since its inception. It will continue to uphold the ideals of being “student-oriented, knowledge-based, integrated, innovative, and open” by establishing the Beihang Institute, which will focus on supporting freshmen and sophomore students. These students are admitted to the university based on their aptitude in general disciplines, and will be nurtured with a general education in a broad range of subjects. In addition, resources are being distributed across the university to integrate and coordinate the development of different schools with the aim of cultivating multidisciplinary leaders with strong aspirations, knowledge, vision, and a truth-seeking spirit. Many of China’s most talented students aspire to enter Beihang, but only about 3,000 of the nearly 10 million candidates who take the annual nationwide college entrance examination qualify for admittance.  

 

Graduates celebrating in front of New Main Building, Xueyuan Road Campus

 

Enriching Research Excellence

 

Academic research is paramount at Beihang University. Establishing a solid scientific foundation and innovative capacity that caters to the country’s national strategic needs is therefore a high priority. In 2017, in ShanghaiRanking’s Global Ranking of Academic Subjects, Beihang University ranked second worldwide and the top nationwide in aerospace engineering. With respect to research on cutting-edge technologies, the university ranks among the top schools in China. It has received a record 11 national-level awards for its scientific accomplishments in recent years, affirming the success of the “Beihang model” for scientific innovation. Beihang remains committed to strengthening basic research and enhancing innovative capacity. Many high-level basic research findings have been published in top international peer-reviewed journals such as Science and Nature, exemplifying Beihang’s leading role in many fields, including bionic interfaces, thermoelectric materials, and quantum measurement. The university consistently generates academic discoveries that advance many disciplines, averaging at least one significant scientific finding every one to two months.

         

National Lab, Shahe Campus

 

Encouraging Multidisciplinary Interactions

Innovation Institute of Interdisciplinary Medicine-Engineering, Doudian Campus

 

In the interests of pursuing cutting-edge, cross-disciplinary scientific research, Beihang University is dedicated to better integrating its engineering sciences expertise with the life and medical sciences, and has made a strategic decision to expand this mission. Part of this initiative is the Innovation Institute of Interdisciplinary Medicine-Engineering, which the university hopes will attract world-class scientists to establish China’s “Silicon Valley” for medical and engineering sciences, encompassing the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region but having a global influence. Nobel Laureates such as Alan J. Heeger, Albert Fert, and Thomas C. Südhof have already visited and developed close working ties with Beihang. Professor Südhof launched the “2017 SCI-Beijing Plan” together with clinical experts on spinal cord injury, aimed at benefiting millions of patients with spinal injuries. Contributions from the Beihang team led by Li Xiaoguang include the development of “spinal cord reconstruction tubes” that offer a new perspective on the treatment of patients with paraplegia. In another example of cross-disciplinary research, Liu Hong from Beihang presided over the construction of Lunar Palace 1, China’s first (and the world’s third) integrated, self-contained, experimental facility for long-duration ecosystem research. This project is among the 10 major successes coming out of China’s program to import top talent. In May 2017, an experiment using Lunar Palace 1 (codenamed “Lunar Palace 365”) was begun. It is a one-year, multiperson trial intended to provide scientific support for manned deep-space exploration.    

 

“Lunar Palace 365” experiment volunteers working in Lunar Palace 1

 

Attracting Top Talent

 

Beihang University is also working unceasingly to re-invigorate its world-class faculty by bringing in top research talent, providing plentiful resources, and striving for excellence in all endeavors. Since its founding, the university has drawn faculty with distinguished academic backgrounds from internationally renowned universities such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Imperial College London, Stanford University, and Oxford University. In recent years, Beihang has highlighted the leading role that senior faculty have played in elevating cross-disciplinary international research there, as well as supporting international researchers driven to address the most intractable scientific issues. The university has attracted three Nobel Prize winners, eight eminent academicians from the U.S. National Academy of Engineering, Academia Europaea in London, U.K., the Royal Society of Edinburgh in Scotland, and 26 experts from China’s Thousand Talents Plan. In addition, three university professors were recently elected as academicians of the Chinese Academy of Sciences as well as five from the Chinese Academy of Engineering, and more than 30 professors are involved in various national high-level talent programs, such as the Changjiang Scholars Program and Distinguished Young Scholars Program. The Vision Forum for International Young Scholars—an annual symposium for early career scientists—has provided a pipeline to Beihang for outstanding students from top institutions, including Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge University, and Oxford University.          

 

Outstanding young professors

 

Beihang University is firmly rooted in China, however, and maintains its focus at home while still seeking collaborations abroad. Implementation of the “university-to-university, professor-to-professor, and student-to-student” development strategy has helped to build Beihang’s network for international exchange and cooperation, significantly growing the university’s influence and competitiveness abroad. Beihang has established long-term, stable partnerships with nearly 200 well-known institutions of higher education, first-class research institutes, and multinational companies. It has joined numerous international alliances and academic organizations, including the International Astronautical Federation, the Top Academic Network for Developing Exchange and Mobility (TANDEM), and the Association of Sino-Russian Technical Universities, in addition to founding a number of high-end international cooperative ventures, such as the Sino-German Joint Software Institute and the Sino-UK Joint Laboratory for Space Science and Technology. In 2005, the Sino-French Engineering School of Beihang University was established, becoming recognized as a preeminent example of Sino-French collaboration in higher education. In 2017, the School of General Engineering was founded, which strives to be a model for international education in the field of general engineering. The following centers have also been established at Beihang University: the Regional Center for Space Science and Technology Education in Asia and the Pacific, the Asia-Pacific Space Cooperation Organization Education and Training Center, and the BeiDou International Communication and Training Center. Meanwhile, the Beihang BeiDou Silk Road Institute has been founded jointly with top universities in countries along the ancient land and maritime treading routes known as the Silk Road, marking the initiation of the BeiDou Navigation Satellite System service to the One Belt, One Road Initiative.  

       

International students

 

Beihang University prides itself on faculty and staff who are passionate, motivated, and accountable. It is a campus where Chinese culture meets the West, science is interwoven with art, history and innovation coexist, and enthusiasm and inspiration work synergistically to spark creativity. At Beihang, dreams bloom at every stage, and important destinations can be reached from every path. Over the past 65 years, the Beihang vision has been passed down from generation to generation, and many fruitful achievements have resulted. This vibrant national key university continues to forge a path unceasingly toward its goal of achieving a world-class standard in education and research, while remaining deeply connected to its domestic roots.          

 

Edited by Mingzhu Li