Local universities raising the roof of innovation

Yang Meiping
Shanghai universities are placing an emphasis on innovation programs to produce the next generation of hi-tech professionals.
Yang Meiping

At the 13th National Conference on Undergraduate Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Shanghai universities had three of the top 20 excellent academic papers, one of the 10 best startup programs and two of the 20 most creative programs.

At the 6th China International College Students’ “Internet +” Innovation and Entrepreneurship Competition, students from Shanghai universities won four gold medals.

These are just a sample of the latest achievements Shanghai universities have made in innovation and entrepreneurship education over the past few years.

Zhao Lixia, deputy director of the Shanghai Education Commission's higher education division, said local universities have been developing online and offline courses on innovation and entrepreneurship for students.

“By now, more than 1,000 courses have been developed and about 300 are shared online for all local students,” Zhao said. “Since 2016, six local universities, including Fudan, Shanghai Jiao Tong and Tongji, have been named by the Ministry of Education as models for innovation and entrepreneurship education, while Shanghai Jiao Tong, Fudan and ShanghaiTech were selected as demonstration bases for innovation and entrepreneurship.”

The city has launched an innovation and entrepreneurship training program for college students that enables them to try their hands at real innovation and startups. Hundreds of thousands of students have taken part in the program over the past five years and created 20,000 innovation programs, with more than 8,000 selected into the national training plan, said Zhao.

She said the city has also set up more than 300 innovation parks, incubators and other practice centers to help college students make their creative ideas a reality. More than 500 innovation associations and clubs have been set up by students in local universities.

Local universities raising the roof of innovation

Three students work together at Shanghai Jiao Tong University's student innovation center.

At Shanghai Jiao Tong University's student innovation center, the lights are usually on around the clock.

The center is a one-stop service center for innovation, with materials and tools such as 3D printing machines. There are four open labs for innovation in artificial intelligence, robotics, information technology and drones, and cross-disciplinary cooperation is encouraged.

“Here, students can apply their knowledge and learn more by themselves if they feel they haven't learned enough in their innovation programs," said Chen Jiangping, director of the center. "We want students to use their brains and hands to create their own innovations. We also want students from different backgrounds to work together, which cultivates their ability to innovate and cooperate."

He said the center has created a professional team of 69 full-time innovation tutors and eight full-time entrepreneurial tutors, as well as 1,731 part-time tutors from businesses to provide guidance for students. It has partnered with companies to develop practical courses for students to learn from industry experts and raise their aspirations. The center also encourages students to take part in innovation competitions to test their ideas and learn from peers.

“Students like working here,” Chen said. “They spend so much time here that we sometimes have to remind them to balance their focus on innovation with their academic studies.”

According to Chen, students made 300,000 visits to the center last year, compared with 180,000 in 2018.

Third-year student Jin Yutao and his team recently won first prize in the National Competition of Transport Science and Technology for Students with a drone they made in the center.

“I like the center,” said Jin. “It brings together people from different disciplinary backgrounds to do things we think are interesting.”

According to Zhao, the city’s education and technology authorities have invested 100 million yuan (US$153,374) per year via the Shanghai Technology Entrepreneurship Foundation for Graduates to fund or provide interest-free loans to innovation programs and startups created by students from local universities. Each program receives 100,000 to 500,000 yuan. 

As of September, the foundation has provided nearly 700 million yuan in financial support to more than 3,000 programs, including online food delivery service giant Ele.me and publicly listed science service company Titan Technology.

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