Chancellor Martin Reflects on November Trip to Asia

UW News Release – November 15, 2010

Chancellor Biddy Martin recently returned from a 12-day trip to Beijing, Hong Kong, and Taipei and reports that the university’s presence and visibility in East Asia is continuing to grow stronger.

The UW-Madison delegation met with Chinese education officials, numerous universities, UW-Madison alumni and officials of the Taiwanese government, among other stops. As she returned to Madison, Martin provided thoughts about the trip. A full transcript follows.

Q: What were the best parts of the November trip?

A: It is very difficult to choose. The trip was an extraordinary learning experience and full of wonderful interactions. Ultimately, the person-to-person interactions and the relationships they help build are most memorable and important. The interest in UW-Madison and, in particular, in the Wisconsin Idea opened up unique opportunities for us — the opportunities, for example, to spend time in Beijing with China’s vice minister for higher education, Hao Ping, with Deputy Secretary General of State Wang with the governors of Hielongjiang and Inner Mongolia, and with representatives of Wisconsin-based companies doing business in China.

In Taiwan, our alumni welcomed us with incredible warmth and generosity, introducing us to Taiwan’s Vice President Hsaio and to Premier Wu, with whom I conversed for over an hour. In Hong Kong, key alumni took two evenings out of their busy schedules to host dinners for us and celebrate their ties to the university as well as ours with them. And the visit to Hong Kong University of Science and Technology was spectacular. I loved talking with alumni and academic counterparts in each location about politics, economics, and culture.

In Beijing, we met the next generation of world-class athletes interested in studying at UW-Madison. Some of them joined us at Cisco headquarters in Beijing for the meeting, by TelePresence, with students, faculty and staff back in Madison. I will always remember sitting across from Steven Olikara and Jon Alfurth, looking them in the eye as if we were in the same room and not halfway across the world from one another.

The sheer number of mopeds in Taipei and the skill of the drivers weaving in and out of vehicular traffic will remain with me for a long time.

Q: What kind of relationships are we building in Asia?

A: We are building a range of different kinds of relationships. Obviously, we are developing closer institution-to-institution ties with major universities as a way of supporting existing collaborations and creating new opportunities for our faculty and students. We are also building relationships with the Ministry of Education in Beijing and closely following developments in higher education overall. On this trip, we met with two provincial governors and members of their staffs to discuss possible state-to-state collaborations. We are meeting with business leaders and potential investors to ensure they know about the research strengths and creativity in Wisconsin and that we know about the opportunities and challenges they face. And, very importantly, we are strengthening our relationships with alumni and prospective donors, building institutional and social networks that will be available to current and future students.

Q: How does a trip like this end up benefiting a UW-Madison student?

A: We are establishing student exchange, internship and study-abroad opportunities. We are working to ensure that UW-Madison attracts the most talented and diverse possible student body from all over the world, for the good of all our students. We are enhancing the long-term value of a UW-Madison degree by making the university more visible in important parts of the world. On this trip we met with six Wisconsin-based companies in Beijing and were assured that they were keen to have our students as interns. We are strengthening alumni networks so our students can make use of the connections and advice that those networks will offer over time. We are making UW-Madison part of the dynamic and more interconnected world in which our graduates will live and work.

Q: What are your plans for returning to China?

A: Because of the importance of substantive exchange and strong relationships, I expect a delegation to travel to China at least once a year. University and government officials in mainland China are overwhelmed by the number of visits they get from all over the world and some are understandably skeptical of the tendency on the part of some university presidents or chancellors to make only one or only very occasional visits with the expectation that genuine collaboration can be established without sustained interaction. I think UW-Madison can and should try to develop a presence in China that is unique, that promotes academic exchange of faculty and students, but also manifests the Wisconsin Idea, drawing on the resources of the state and university to spur collaboration that will have a reciprocally positive impact.

Q: What is the most important goal for you in China going forward?

A: To enhance the quality of our education and research, to increase the long-term value of a UW-Madison degree, to support faculty collaborations in research and education, and to make a contribution by finding a way to have a presence there that is unique to UW-Madison and consistent with the Wisconsin Idea. Too often, the people we meet look at the U.S. and see only its west and east coasts. With greater visibility for UW-Madison, top government officials, business, educational and opinion leaders will realize that Wisconsin is one of the nation’s best-kept secrets when it comes to opportunities for collaboration, joint-venture and investments. We want the rest of the world to see UW’s success at finding solutions to major cultural, social, economic, medical, environmental, energy and manufacturing challenges.

Q: What were your other general impressions?

A: In April, we reconnected with the top Chinese universities in Beijing, Shanghai, Zhejiang and Tianjin, and established some new ties such as with the Beijing Sports University that led to the Chinese Champions program. This time, we broadened our reach both in terms of geography and in connecting with business leaders, provincial leaders, alumni leaders and high-level government officials wherever we went.

Once again, I was impressed with the dynamism, the pace of change, the economic growth and the extraordinary investments in infrastructure across China and Taiwan. I was delighted by the opportunity to learn more, not only about the economic, social, political and cultural landscape, but also about the perspectives of the people I met, about their personal histories and their views. The investments in infrastructure are mind-boggling. Since March, when I took the high-speed train from Beijing to Tianjin, a new rail line has opened between Hangzhou and Shanghai that is 200 km per hour faster than the Beijing-Tianjin train. When high-speed rail connects the central and western provinces to Beijing and the coasts, the opportunities for growth and for greater prosperity for more of China’s population will be even greater.

The investments in higher education are staggering. And the efforts of Chinese universities to attract native Chinese and American scholars away from U.S. universities is working. When we met with the administration and key faculty of Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, it was almost as if we had come upon a Big Ten meeting. The provost recently moved to HKUST from the University of Michigan. Two deans had moved from Iowa and Purdue, and the new director of their new Institute for Advanced Study from Cornell. The HKUST campus is spectacular and I hope we will be able to establish strong ties there. Our ability to compete, as a university, a state and a nation depends on our ability to recruit and retain the talent that universities all over the world are racing to attract. Partnerships with universities in other parts of the world are critical; a presence in other parts of the world is vital; so, too, is investment in our institutions at home.

As always, I was impressed by our hosts’ friendliness and openness, their interest in discussing a wide range of things, including the election results in the U.S. and in Wisconsin, sustainability and alternate energy sources, and social policy issues. The Fed’s decision to print $600 billion and its impact on Asia was a frequent theme, and I was fascinated by the different perspectives on it.

At the Beijing Forum, where I spoke on a panel on higher education, I heard several excellent talks, one by the former president of Mexico on global macroeconomic challenges, another by a German theologian on the importance of shared ethical values, another by a Korean university president on the relationship between GDP and the quality of higher education in various countries. Scholars and university leaders from a number of different countries had questions and comments on my talk that led to interesting and productive discussions.

I was heartened by the degree of interest in UW-Madison and in Wisconsin every place we went. In Taiwan I was invited to meet with the vice president and premier — an enormous honor and an opportunity for thoughtful conversations about a wide range of things, of which higher education was only one. Our alumni in Taiwan could not have been more welcoming. Their support of UW-Madison is clearly attributable to the great faculty they had when they were students and the interest those faculty took in their well-being and their careers.