If you were to take a flight northeast of Suzhou over Taicang High-Tech Development Zone in 2022 and look down, you would see the future of education. A 0.33 million square-meter circular landmark development will be Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University (XJTLU)’s Taicang Base, home of XJTLU Entrepreneur College (Taicang).
While its physical opening is still two years away, its first intake of students started in 2019. XJTLU Entrepreneur College (Taicang) offers unique entrepreneur degrees, which not only includes a minor in entrepreneurialism but also an imaginative Professional Development Programme (PDP) each summer, providing students key hands-on industry experiences.
Professor Stuart Perrin, Associate Principal of XJTLU Entrepreneur College (Taicang)
The physical infrastructure and facilities of XJTLU Entrepreneur College (Taicang) will support up to 5,000 undergraduate and postgraduate students to become the leaders of new industries – industry elites with the requisite skills and knowledge required of the future workforce. This can only be achieved by reimagining the concept of education. By developing industry schools in partnership with well-known businesses, XJTLU Entrepreneur College (Taicang) will demonstrate the university’s espoused ‘Syntegrative Education’ philosophy in action, best described by XJTLU’s Executive President Professor Youmin Xi.
“Education must be forward-looking and respond to future needs. Artificial Intelligence is developing rapidly, and in the coming decade AI and robots will replace many of the jobs humans once did,” Professor Xi says.
“Our new Syntegrative Education programmes will train versatile talents who are capable of driving the development of new industries. They must not only have specialised training and experience but also cross-cultural leadership skills, management skills, and the ability to innovate and to master and incorporate the new technology and lead the new industry.”
The seven co-developed industry-themed schools that comprise XJTLU Entrepreneur College (Taicang) are based on future demand and key industry alignment, with a firm focus on new technology. The PDP “syntegrates” industry and education further; industry supervisors will work with the Deans of Schools and business development managers to co-deliver the professional development elements of the plans.
The first cohort of summer PDP students are currently attending workshops, guest lectures, and visiting key industry businesses, and in two cases– AI and Advanced Computing, and the Internet of Things – the summer PDP is being delivered purely by industry partners.
Degrees in Intelligent Robotics Engineering or Microelectronic Science and Engineering or Data Science and Big Data Technology may still sound almost sci-fi – but, as Professor Stuart Perrin, Associate Principal of XJTLU Entrepreneur College (Taicang) explains, the skills acquired while earning these entrepreneurial degrees are essential in preparing students to progress in key roles in the emerging industries of the 21st century.
“You can see students wanting to study numeracy-based subjects like accountancy and economics. We are questioning whether traditional education prepares students properly for future careers and we’re creating great programmes to help them prepare.
“It's not just about the subjects, it’s also about how teaching takes place. We've got student-centered learning and technology-enhanced learning. We're engaging industry into education in a meaningful way as a part and structure of the process.
“Industry is being involved in the development of degree programmes. Industry-based research and tuition from industry experts means industry becomes a key part of everything.”
It’s a smart response in a world in which the speed of change and disruption is rapidly accelerating. A century ago, the sum of all human knowledge was considered to double once every 100 years; today that doubling-up period has shrunk to a period of less than 12 months. That flood of knowledge, of new data, brings with it new ways of working, new ways of studying, and new careers in industries barely conceived of just a few decades ago.
“There’s going to be much more continual upskilling or re-skilling that needs to take place. One way of doing that is through the new XJTLU Learning Mall [launched in May 2020], which delivers through both online and onsite education,” Professor Perrin says.
“The other aspect of lifelong learning is about providing the means to enable learning to continue, whatever your life stage or age, and for whatever reason.”
Professor Perrin adds that the flexibility afforded through online learning – anytime, anywhere – also challenges the common status or view of learning as being strictly confined to gaining qualifications in the early years of people’s lives.
“While you can find aspects of our approach in other institutions within China, it’s not being done to this scale or in this combination. There is online education in China, obviously; there is industry-based education; there are entrepreneurial colleges popping up; but we have put them together into a unique blend we believe best serves students who will be the industry leaders of tomorrow.
“This also raises the question as to the role of the physical university in the future.”
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[Images provided by XJTLU Entrepreneur College (Taicang]