China gives green light for country's first private research university



China's Ministry of Education has officially approved the establishment of the country's first private research university – a move that adds a new type of institutes to the Chinese higher education sector that has long been dominated by public establishments.

The Westlake University aims to cultivate high-level talents and rival renowned international research-oriented institutes.

The non-profit research university, whose two campuses are near the scenic West Lake in Hangzhou, capital of east China’s Zhejiang Province, will prioritize research areas in natural science, engineering and medical science.

China's Ministry of Education has approved the establishment of Westlake University.

The Westlake University is the successor of the Westlake Institute for Advanced Study (WIAS), which had been classified as a "research institute for advanced study" until it gained its university status.

Shi Yigong, a structural biologist and former Princeton University professor, is the founder and proposed president of the university.

The school’s funding comes from donations, tuition, and research projects, as well as government subsidies.

The establishment will offer doctoral education, having enrolled 19 doctoral candidates already, and will launch an undergraduate program "at an appropriate time," it said.

Westlake Institute for Advanced Study (WIAS) has admitted the first group of 19 doctoral candidates and plans to enroll 130 more this year under the name of Westlake University.

The university plans to welcome 130 students this year, with the aim of having 5,000 full-time postgraduates at one point.

Westlake University has attracted a lot of attention since it was initiated by a team of seven Chinese academics, including Shi, in March 2015, when they proposed to the government a private top-level research institution that adds more vitality to the country's academic scene.

In 2016, a foundation was established to allocate resources for the establishment of WIAS. In January, Shi resigned from his post as vice president of the esteemed Tsinghua University in Beijing, to work full time at Westlake University.

Shi Yigong.

Shi became the youngest tenured professor of Princeton University in 2003. After living in the US for 18 years, he returned to China in 2008.

"I decided to return for the purpose of education," he said.

In a public speech last December, Shi predicted that the institution would be at the forefront of scientific research in Asia within five years, and one of the world’s top educational institutions within 15 years.

Aiming high, the university has also attracted considerable funds from China’s business tycoons, including Pony Ma, founder and CEO of Internet giant Tencent and Wang Jianlin, the former wealthiest businessman in the country and founder and chairman of conglomerate Wanda Group.

A design sketch of Westlake University's campus.

The Zhengjiang-based university will get support from the government in terms of hardware and funds. Officials said a series of measures will be rolled out to help support the institution's operations, such as educational assistance for the children of high-end talents.