Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University: An entrepreneurial college that is pushing the boundaries
Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University (XJTLU), and their Entrepreneur College (Taicang), is a refreshing case study. We sat down with Stuart Perrin, Associate Principal of the Entrepreneur College, to discuss their approach.
The Entrepreneur College (Taicang)
One of nine joint venture universities within China, XJTLU, a private, not-for-profit university, is based in Suzhou, China, and was founded in partnership between Xi’an Jiantong University and the University of Liverpool. Since its establishment in 2006, it has grown from just 164 students to over 24,000 and become a Chinese tier-one university. The university has two campuses, the Suzhou Industrial Park Campus and the Taicang campus. The Entrepreneur College (Taicang) was established more recently in 2019, out of the belief that with the increase in disruptive technologies and industry 4.0, education needed to change in order to stay relevant.
In-curricular entrepreneurialism and beyond
All undergraduate students in the Entrepreneur College must study contemporary entrepreneurialism as a minor in their degree programmes (25% of years, two, three, and four). Much of the learning and teaching follows a problem-based approach, with mentors provided from industry throughout. Outside of the classroom, students engage with industry through five-week summer professional development programmes. At the end of year one and two, there is a practical learning element, and a practice-based internship at the end of year three within industry. Stuart confirms XJTLU built each degree programme around direct input from industry.
Whether it’s industry partners telling us what should be in the curriculum, co-delivery, providing final year projects, providing mentors, etc. programmes were informed by industry”.
The college launched its first master’s degree last year in entrepreneurship and innovation, with seven different pathways for students to choose from, including Business; Circular Economy; Creative Technology; Enterprise Governance, Innovation and Succession; FinTech; Smart Cities; and Technology Transfer Management. In year one of this programme, students are supported in shaping their business ideas. In year two, XJTLU provides space for students to start their own business as part of the degree programme. If their business idea does not work, or they are not at that stage to launch in year two, students have the option to work as consultants in industry. This master’s degree programme recently received approval for three additional pathways, namely Strategic Human Resources Management, Intelligent Robotics, and Global Public Health.
The challenges of change and how to respond
One part of Stuart’s role in the college is to examine the role of the university and education in the future and how it will respond to new challenges such as chatGPT 4. “People think closed book exams are the only way to fight against the new open AI-style technologies. I’m keen to stop people reverting to that. For me, if we went down that road, we would be doing our students and our staff a disservice.” Instead, universities must figure out how they can work with new technologies to the benefit of everyone and acknowledge the advantages that they can bring in accessibility and quality of education.
An entrepreneurial college is meant to be pushing the boundaries all the time. So, a continual challenge of working here is that you need to keep refreshing the way you think”.
As a young university, XJTLU tends to recruit academics who are relatively forward thinking in many ways and less traditional, Stuart says. Though they are an entrepreneur college, this does not necessarily mean all staff need to be business entrepreneurs. Instead, Stuart argues, it should mean entrepreneurialism within the education system and teaching delivery; training those academics to become more entrepreneurial with their mindset. “Our students live in a world where they need to know how to use these technologies and not be frightened of them. We need to be teaching them how to do that”. Stuart’s challenge is finding those academics who can do it.
If you go into almost any university today, you will see somebody standing at the top of the class, with the students facing them. That has not changed for how many thousands of years”.
Goals of the college
Universities are known to be slower to respond to change. One of the goals of the college, according to Stuart, is to reconsider the structure of degrees to ensure students get a quality education but make it more relevant to society, industry, and in the workplace going forward. One avenue is to create more flexible, cross-disciplinary, industry-oriented and international degree programmes at master’s level, whereby students build their own degrees from more than one institution. The bigger challenge here, Stuart says, is who owns the programming and financing, and breaking down those academic siloes.
What does this mean for their graduates?
Their first cohort of bachelor students graduated this year and a large percentage of graduates received offers from global top 10-15 universities for their master’s degree. Stuart attributes these results to the unique learning environment at the Entrepreneur College.
Our graduates get those offers because they are different. They not only have the technical knowledge, but they are also used to working with people, and pulling problems apart and putting them back together again”.
Ready for more?
If you enjoyed this chat, you may also enjoy our Future of Universities insights series.
Lauren Kroemer-Pope (interviewer) is a Marketing and Communications Specialist at UIIN.
Madeline Arkins (author) is a Project Officer at UIIN. In her work, she focuses on topics relating to social impact and innovation in regional ecosystems.