Other takeaways from the 2019 Shanghai Forum

Ni Tao
Top universities in China can benefit from their cooperation with counterparts in the BRICS union.
Ni Tao

A BRICS ‘Ivy League’

Top universities in China can benefit from their cooperation with counterparts in the BRICS union — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — according to educators and scholars who attended a high-profile conference on cooperation in higher education.

Speaking at the first annual general assembly since the founding in 2015 of the “BRICS Universities League,” Zhang Jin, deputy head of the international department of China’s Ministry of Education, said the league will serve as an important mechanism to encourage the flow of talent toward more emerging economies such as the BRICS nations.

At the conference held by Fudan University, which holds the rotating BRICS “Ivy League” secretariat, it was decided that colleges and research institutions in BRICS nations should promote people-to-people exchanges. Moreover, they are expected to boost the role of educators and think tanks in providing intellectual support to BRICS and other emerging economies.

Measures being discussed include sending students and teachers on regular exchanges and conducting joint research, among many others.

Maxim Khomyakov, vice president of Russia’s National Research University Higher School of Economics, said BRICS countries can rise to the common challenges by rewarding academic excellence through a variety of fellowships.

The priority, he added, is to found elite schools to cultivate the brightest minds capable of addressing daunting issues facing individual societies.

Data openness

One of the Shanghai Forum’s two principal organizers, Fudan University, also released a report on Chinese local governments’ information transparency, which drew widespread attention.

The report, compiled with the State Information Center, a unit of the National Development and Reform Commission, is the first of its kind that measures Chinese localities by their data openness.

Shanghai topped the list with the most open attitude toward sharing data and information, followed by provinces such as Zhejiang as well as other cities and autonomous regions.

In the category of provincial capital or prefecture-level city, Guiyang, capital of Guizhou Province, surprisingly came at the top, beating candidates such as Harbin and Jinan. This is partly because Guizhou has embarked on an audacious campaign to embrace big data and cloud computing, among other technologies.

The study recognizes cities that go the furthest of all on Chinese mainland in making official data publicly available. While the report applauds improvement by local governments in data transparency, it also highlights the lack of concrete examples of data application.

The blame, it says, lies not with scant demand for data or the user being less data-savvy. Rather, the problem boils down to the fact that most highly sought-after and high-value government data has yet to be disclosed.

Leveling ‘green’ playing field

As a result of China’s campaign to build a society with a low-carbon footprint, such concepts as green finance are gaining currency. This means financial philosophies and practices tend to be more influenced by the awareness of reducing environmental impact.

One of Fudan University’s contributions to the literature on this subject is a study on green finance in the prosperous Yangtze River Delta.

Researchers behind the study looked at how 41 cities in the region scored on 22 criteria — including economic growth, tertiary-industry development, tech innovation — and then rated their performance on a scale of 0-100.

The study reveals a discrepancy in green development between the south and north, and the east and west of the roughly 210,000-square-kilometer region that 150 million people now call home. For instance, cities from Jiangsu and Anhui provinces account for over 90 percent of the 20 cities that rank near the bottom of the survey, suggesting that Shanghai and Zhejiang have fared better in green development relative to their neighbors.

The study lists several things the authorities can do to enhance the so-called coordinated green development, including setting unified standards governing green finance, employing mechanisms to relocate industries within the region and setting up an ad hoc foundation to incentivize eco-friendly growth.

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