By the year 2020 more than 50% of students from each Tsinghua University undergraduate class will study abroad with the support of the school.

The globe will be dotted with the footprints of the Tsinghua students who share in our passion for innovation and entrepreneurship. Steven White, Associate Professor of the Department of Innovation for Tsinghua University reflects his insight about the traditions and future of education in China.

Steven White, Associate Professor of the Department of Innovation for Tsinghua University
Steven White, Associate Professor of the Department of Innovation for Tsinghua University

Tsinghua University has over 100 years of rich history. In 1911, Tsinghua began as a preparatory school for the US and now, more than one hundred years later, has both a diverse and global student body with 3000 international students from 116 countries and regions. One might think it to be a challenge, bridging ancient and modern style in a university that has such a respectful history. Is this the case?

Actually, in Tsinghua’s case, its role as a university leading Chinese higher education and future leaders into the next stage of development — multiple times since its founding — and thereby making a significant contribution to China’s development is a fortunate benefit of its relatively long history. The students and faculty all feel that this is their role and responsibility at a particular point in time in which they are at the university. And the students, of course, see themselves as leading China into and through its next stage of development, whether in the public or private sector. As China is entering an age of true innovation and internationalization Tsinghua continues to ensure that their students understand these two challenges are the key for new and future opportunities in China.

Tsinghua University enjoys being referred to as a place where the East meets with the West. Like Tsinghua, how have you managed to create a culture that values both diversity and inclusiveness?

In the past, the emphasis was on “east” meeting and learning from “west”. Tsinghua faculty and students were focused on learning from the west and finding ways to apply that to China’s situation. Now there is a transition underway. Increasingly, Tsinghua faculty and students are bringing new things — ideas, innovations, points of view — to the west. Hence we have dramatically increased and extensively support students from outside China to become part of the Tsinghua “family”. Our faculty are active in international associations, “competing” and thereby contributing to the global academic community and collective knowledge. In reality, the interaction and exchange is no longer between “east” and “west”, but more generally between China and the rest of the world — whether that is with other parts of Asia, the Americas, Europe or Africa. And there is a recognition of the value of this interaction and exchange in Tsinghua and in China more generally.

Forbes has mentioned the campus of Tsinghua University as the “world’s most beautiful campus.” Photo:

Tsinghua University’s position in the Times Higher Education University Ranking has continued to improve over recent years and will receive the 3rd position among Asian universities and the 30th position in competition with world universities in 2018. How important is this ranking to your university and how have you managed to continually show this self-improvement?

Tsinghua is using external measures, such as the rankings as well as the methods of “role model” universities such as MIT, Stanford, Cambridge and Oxford to help its target areas for it to focus resources and introduce changes. In the spirit of a “balanced scorecard” deans and faculty and administrators have to show that they are improving on those metrics and comparisons. Benchmarking through these rankings is a form “constructive competition” to the extent that it helps Tsinghua make steady progress on those criteria and rankings.

You are an Associate Professor of the Department of Innovation, you have published papers in international journals as well as twenty-five cases, you have authored and coauthored eight books, such as Hong Kong’s Venture Capital System and The Commercialization of New Technology, and Venture Capital and the Financing of China’s New Technology Firms.How has entrepreneurial education changed in last 5–7 years and how do we educate future entrepreneurs?

Two things have changed dramatically in that last few years. First, there is widespread understanding within the university that hands-on, project-based, “learning-by-doing” is an extremely effective pedagogical approach that motivates and energizes the students (and faculty, for that matter, if they can feel comfortable “letting go” of control that powerpoint slide lectures represents for some). This method is in any of the fields taught at Tsinghua, not just entrepreneurship. Learning-by-doing,with faculty or mentor facilitation along the way, addresses the problem of students having “book” or “desktop” knowledge of something, but not their own experience in its application.

The second major change is the explosion of entrepreneurs whose experiences and expertise we as educators can draw on — whether through second-hand cases, first-hand interaction, mentoring or other forms of interaction. There are many more examples, contexts, industries and types of people and issues to draw on. This broadens the perspective of students vis-a-vis entrepreneurship and the entrepreneurial process.

Facts about the University of Tsinghua:

  • 30th among world university rankings in 2018
  • 42,000+ students (⅔ graduate students, ⅓ undergraduates)
  • 9% of students are international
  • Forbes has mentioned the campus of Tsinghua University as the world’s most beautiful campus.
  • 3 years participating in EIA entrepreneurship program
  • About the same number of US-granted patents as MIT.
  • Tsinghua is the undergraduate home to the largest number of US-university granted PhDs in sciences and engineering of any single university in the world, including the USA, annually.