Building a World-Class University, President Gong Ke on the Future of Nankai University

By David Li, translated by Sai Sun

On the evening of May 8, the 6-member delegation from Nankai University headed by President Gong Ke(龚克) received a warm welcome party hosted by Boston Nankai Alumni Association at Jing Chuan Restaurant in Boston Chinatown. Nearly 60 Nankai alumni participated in the event. They cherished the rare opportunity, and listened carefully to the President Gong and Vice President Guan Naijia’s speeches, which covered a number of topics that included the construction of a new campus, overseas exchange programs for undergraduate students as well as the worldwide talents recruiting policy. The alumni also offered advice on the future development of Nankai University.

Boston Nankai Alumni Association President Zhong Wang (left) and President Gong (Photo by Jun Qi)

Larry Wang(王忠), the president of Boston Nankai Alumni Association, delivered a welcome speech. “Openness and international perspective are Nankai’s tradition. Before he founed Nankai University in 1919, Zhang Boling visited and studied at Columbia University and the University of Chicago. Boston Nankai Alumni Association has over 300 registered members. Premier Zhou Enlai and Premier Wen Jiabo both said ‘I do love Nankai’. It speaks well for all Nankai alumni. It is a great historical event of the Alumni Association to be able to welcome President Gong in Boston,” said Mr. Wang.

Nankai University was founded in 1919 by the famous patriotic educators Xiu Yan and Boling Zhang as an elite private university. The university campus was ruined during the Second World War by Japanese bombardment. Nankai University, Tsinghua University and Peking University were relocated to Kunming, and formed the prestigious National Southwest Associated University for eight years. After the war, the campus was moved back to its original site in Balitai, Tianjin.

President Gong thanked the warm reception of the alumni and was especially pleased to see an 81-year-old alumna Beatrice Lee (赵钟英). President Gong graduated from the Beijing Institute of Technology in 1977 and studied in Europe in 1980s. In 1987, he returned to Tsinghua University to do microwave electronics research. In 1996, he moved to Tianjin. Before being appointed as Nankai University president last year, he served as president of Tianjin University. He said that the purpose of this trip was to strengthen the Nankai external cooperation and speed up her process of internationalization.

On undergraduate education, Gong pointed out that it was important to focus on the comprehensive training of students. The university should emphasize quality education in moral, intellectual, physical, aesthetic and psychological areas, and the internationalization is also a crucial part. While sending students studying overseas, the University also welcomes foreign students to study at Nankai. He said, “This is a must for any top university in the era of globalization. Scientific research should not overemphasize the any single major or research field. Instead, we should be more problem-oriented, and focus on inter-disciplinary research. For example, the School of Life Sciences has made significant progresses in recent years because it seized the forefront of scientific problems, rather than just confined to one discipline. It is also true for the research of social sciences.”

President Gong briefly described some of the school reform initiatives, such as enabling students to participate in school management so that they can gain citizenship experience and stay motivated. He pointed out that the key to reform was the faculty. Currently 58% of the faculty graduated from Nankai. In the future this ratio is expected to be reduced to below one-third. Next, Gong introduced the new campus located in the middle reaches of the Haihe River, covering an area of ​​2.5 square kilometers. The new campus is located in the center of the future Tianjin Metro, and will be as a multidisciplinary, comprehensive campus as the old one. Siyuan Hall, Xiushan Hall and other Nankai historic buildings will be reproduced in the new campus. Statues will be erected to commemorate Nankai historical figures for the 100th anniversary. Moreover, 200,000 trees for alumni have also been planned.

“I hope we are all the facilitators of the reforms at Nankai University. You have broad and global view and I hope you will become the messengers of foreign exchanges. I also hope everyone is the contributor of the future development of Nankai University, such as donating trees to be planted in the new campus. Participation of overseas alumni in the construction of the new campus is more important than the donation itself. And finally, welcome home and visit Nankai frequently.” Gong ended his speech with the loud applause from all alumni.

Vice President, Naijia Guan, sitting with the Department of Chemistry alumni, made a brief statement. Guan, who is in charge of international exchange, enrolled in Nankai Department of Chemistry in 1977. She told the alumni that Gong worked hard and was familiar with each corner of Nankai since he took office. She said, “Now Tianjin is developing rapidly. So will be Nankai University.” She also introduced Pingping Tang at her table. Mr. Tang is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Harvard University Department of Chemistry, and he will become a faculty member of Nankai University in September of this year.

An alumna, who is a Ph.D. student at Harvard University, said that she was pleased to see Gong in Boston for the first time. She had read online about the story that Gong talked with students in cafeteria during his first working day at Nankai University as president. “It was great to hear about the plan of Nankai development directly from the president,” she said.

Haiyan Gao, the Director of international academic exchanges, introduced the educational experience of Nankai University with well-known foreign universities jointly in the forms of the “3 + 2”, “4 + 1” and etc. 740 students studied abroad last year, and the number will reach 1000 this year.

Group photo by Jun Qi.

Members of the delegation from Nankai University also include Pu Wenjun, Dean of the College of Life Science, Bai Changhong, Dean of the College of Tourism and Services, and Zhang Ning, Deputy Chief of International Academic Exchanges. The destinations of this visiting trip include Temple University, Brown University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University and University of Wisconsin.