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UCL and PKU draw up roadmap to tackle global challenges

9 November 2017

UCL and Peking University (PKU) have extended their partnership by agreeing a new roadmap to tackle issues including creating a blueprint for sustainable cities, teaching Mandarin in English schools and reducing the occurrence of spina bifada, one of the world’s most common birth defects.

PKU campus

A year on from UCL and PKU announcing a “deep, strategic” partnership, the presidents of the two universities – Professor Michael Arthur and Professor Lin Jianhua – yesterday signed the “road map” outlining eight joint research and education initiatives that they will work on over coming years.

It came during a visit to PKU by Professor Arthur and a delegation of senior academics which included time at the School for Chinese as a Second Language to launch new joint learning materials and the National School for Development to celebrate the joint Beijing International MBA (BiMBA).

A new five-year dual degree in Medical Humanities where students will study for four years for an undergraduate degree at PKU before transferring to the UK for their final masters year has also been agreed.

Professor Lin said: “The partnership between UCL and PKU is a model of positive, cooperative, and comprehensive connections that span the globe and play an important role in enhancing mutual trust, solving global issues, and advancing civilization.”

Professor Arthur said: “At UCL, we believe in bringing together the right mix of minds, wherever they may be in the world, to address the most pressing challenges of our time. Our partnership with PKU is a great example of how through combining different perspectives and expertise, we can make a real difference.”

Among the research and education initiatives outlined in the road map are:

  • A transformation in the teaching of Mandarin in England’s classrooms with the aim of giving every secondary school the chance to offer the language alongside the traditional staples of French, Spanish, and German. This work will be done through the UCL Institute of Education Confucius Institute, which is a bilateral collaboration between UCL, PKU, and Peking University High School.
  • The creation of a blueprint for sustainable mega-cities. Academics from UCL’s Faculty of the Built Environment and the PKU’s Lincoln Institute Centre for Urban Development and Land Policy will use London and Beijing as living urban labs to develop policies that could tackle the key issues for mega-cities including planning infrastructure, reducing air pollution, absorbing millions of migrants, and housing expanding populations. As well as staff and student exchanges, there are plans to establish a joint research centre on megacity studies.
  • An ambitious bid to prevent one of world’s most common birth defects, spina bifida. Researchers at the UCL Institute of Child Health and PKU Health Science Centre are proposing a £5m study of up to 9,000 women in China to confirm initial findings that a vitamin common in fruit, vegetables, meat, and nuts could prevent babies being born with spina bifida. Academics from the UCL Institute of Child Health and PKU’s Health Science Centre on Epidemiology have already won funding under the China-UK International Exchange Scheme to investigate genetic and environmental risk factors for neural tube defects including spina bifada.
  • A £1.2m research programme by teams at the UCL Genetics Institute and PKU People’s Hospital to improve understanding of the emergence and spread of anti-microbial resistant bacteria in China.

Other initiatives range from partnerships in archaeology to collaborating on research into the genomes of families with rare diseases. UCL-PKU links span all four UCL Schools and eight faculties with more than 15 collaborative activities.

PKU agreement

The UCL visit to China has included speeches, meetings and alumni events in Hong Kong and Shanghai as well as Beijing. The provost’s delegation has included Professor Alan Thompson, dean of the Faculty of Brain Sciences, Dr Katharine Carruthers, pro-vice-provost for China and Director of the Confucius Institute, Dr Vivienne Lo, Director of the China Centre for Health and Humanity and Professor Nikolaos Konstantinidis, Vice-Dean (International).

Founded in 1898, PKU is the first national university in Chinese modern history, and it is ranked one of the top research universities in the world. It has put much investment into traditional disciplines including languages and literature, history, philosophy, mathematics, chemistry and physics, as well as in emerging interdisciplinary fields such as biochemistry engineering and bioinformatics.

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  • 北京大学 Peking University (Credit: LWYang via Flickr)
  • Professor Michael Arthur with PKU president Professor Lin Jianhua