Making ‘research-led’ a part of XJTLU's DNA

Executive president's Christmas, New Year and Spring Festival message to staff and students

Dear teachers, administrative staff members, students, and friends:

It's the end of the year once again and we'll soon be welcoming in a new year. Though the media has called this winter "the coldest of the last decade", the plummeting temperatures have done nothing to dampen people's enthusiasm for Christmas and the New Year.

This year, XJTLU celebrated its 10th anniversary and we took a close look at our growth over the last 10 years, which also made us look to the future. During this special year, at a time that Chinese people often use to ring out the old and ring in the new, it's appropriate that we say goodbye to the "old" and say hello to a "new" future.

Over 10 years, XJTLU has grown from a newly born, small college into an international university that is favoured by students, beloved by parents, respected by peers, and closely followed by society. Its rapid, healthy development has been astonishing and many peers and academics have been lining up to discover our secret! At this moment, I would like to once more express my heartfelt gratitude to all people at XJTLU - to the teachers, administrative members of staff, students, alumni, and external mentors - for their hard work and contribution, and to the friends of XJTLU - parents, partners, and people throughout society - who have cared about and supported the development of XJTLU. I would also like to thank the government and officials at various levels, as well as the University’s board members, for their guidance and tremendous support. In my Teachers’ Day message, I talked about "starting from zero" to re-establish XJTLU. During the first year of XJTLU's next decade of growth, or even beyond, all of us need to be looking forward!

It's not hard to predict that XJTLU's reputation and scale will grow steadily, as a greater number of highly qualified Chinese and international academics and students join us, and as our educational model evolves, improves, and becomes more expansive, more high-level research will be conducted. The influence of our departments, institutes and research centres on the international stage will intensify, while international collaboration and interaction with society will further deepen. We will also proudly present our modern and unique campus following the completion of the South Campus' schools of business and film and television and sports centre.

Seeing how XJTLU people have used their wisdom and hard work to fashion a new model for education, a new university operating system, a new type of university and a new relationship with society - all of which was achieved in a short period of time and is a perfect match for future development trends - and seeing how, through this, they have contributed to educational reform in China as well as the development of the global education industry, we realise that XJTLU has employed its unique exploration to stand at the forefront of new trends.

If we take a deeper look at society's development and its future need for talent, it is not hard to realise that society will be faced with a number of new trends and that it will need more high-quality creative talent able to perform across multiple professions. The current philosophy and system of educators, however, is not up to the task of educating such versatility, nor has it given students enough options when it comes to determining their studies according to their own plans for the future. As a response to these demands, in the next several years XJTLU will embark upon a new exploration, strengthening cross-disciplinary or industry training and extending it to company and industry collaboration in order to increase future career related internship and launch in-work entrepreneurial and management training. In another word, besides the continuously improving of our current education model, XJTLU will develop a new, integrated and high-quality model for developing high profile applied talent. This will bring more choice and opportunities to our students!

To continually deepen these models and allow them to complement each other, we shall not only retain the concept of research-led as a core factor in our vision, but also take research-led teaching, learning and working as XJTLU's prioritised strategic choice. In the New Year, we will encourage academic staff and students to conduct in-depth research on how to more deeply embed a research-led approach into XJTLU's practice so that it becomes a part of XJTLU's DNA.

It is not an exaggeration to say that the current education is facing the most serious challenge in its history. Following the growth of the internet, and with the “Net Generation” entering college, knowledge is now so easy to obtain, which poses great challenges to the function of traditional university classrooms in imparting knowledge. Today it's hard to be ignorant but our problem is that there is too much knowledge and information. The most important task in learning in this era is choosing what we believe to be right amid this complex sea of knowledge, and applying it to solving problems, completing tasks or addressing challenges. And so, if schools are merely information providers that help people "know" things, then there will undoubtedly be many substitutes that challenge the value of universities.

With such a challenge, learning models, teaching methods and working styles of universities must fundamentally adjust. XJTLU's positioning as a "research-led" university is intended not only to attract academics and students from across the globe to conduct research to contribute to the progress and civilisation of mankind, but also to reshape education by advocating research-led learning for students, research-led teaching for tutors and research-led work among academics, professional supporters and administrative members so as to enhance the value of universities and XJTLU’s competitiveness.

XJTLU's positioning as a unique international university that is research-led shows that we encourage and support research and exploration among students and tutors, whose inventions and creations will promote human civilisation. We are trying to transform top-down learning into research-led learning, where students, starting from practical issues and phenomena, will actively explore and search for related information under the guidance of tutors and through teamwork and knowledge integration interpret the phenomena or provide solutions to the problem. During this process, students' curiosity and their spirit of exploration is enhanced - they don't just acquire knowledge but also learn how to collect materials, integrate knowledge and analyse and solve problems, learning how to learn. Their ability to apply knowledge to solving actual problems, their teamwork skills, their powers of expression, and their ability to appraise the knowledge they already possess will all be exercised. Only then will they be competitive in the society of the future and so, too, will the value of university learning be greatly enhanced.

To support research-led learning among students, teaching must also be research-led. But what is research-led teaching? During a visit to one of the world's most renowned universities, which was also advocating research-led teaching, I asked the leading professor the same question. His answer covered three areas:

  1. Tutors share their research results when they teach
  2. Research skills should be introduced to students
  3. Research opportunities would be created for students.

At the time, I said that, according to my understanding, this kind of research-led teaching would merely entail adding a research element to the traditional education and no difference to knowledge imparting philosophy would be made. In our research-led teaching, on the other hand, teachers must first select appropriate phenomena or issues purposely according to the knowledge of the module before guiding students in searching for information or knowledge on their own in order to interpret or give solutions. The tutor is no longer the head of the classroom, but a leader and supporter of students' learning. Teachers should choose the phenomenon or issue before class, set up the learning scenario and create an environment for students in which to guide them in conducting the research. In the classroom, they will no longer teach knowledge, but discuss and explore with students how to address the difficulties and problems in their research. In the meantime, as the students search for materials and solve problems, teachers will offer necessary guidance, support and assistance.

Naturally, to transform the way students learn and the way teachers teach, universities also need to change their learning and teaching support systems, as well as develop an atmosphere on campus that requires research-led work from all university staff members. They should be encouraged to explore how to perform their respective roles better and more creatively, based on the university’s vision and its demands in teaching and research. They need to work as a team to create a friendly and highly-efficient service and support system. This requires that all staff be open, proactive, cooperative, innovative, focused on needs and objectives, and continually innovating and changing.

The research-led approach advocated by XJTLU is our core strategic initiative for the challenges faced by universities in this new age. In the New Year, XJTLU will, through multiple channels and methods, encourage tutors, students and staff to carry out in-depth exploration of the definition, methodology, required skills and means of implementation for research-led learning, teaching and working, as well as compile guidance and manuals on their practice in different fields. This will genuinely integrate the concept of “research-led” into XJTLU's daily operations.

We hope that tutors, students and staff members at XJTLU will actively participate in this process of discussion, exploration and practice, so as to help XJTLU take the lead in this era of change.

The opportunity to reform education comes once in a lifetime and with regards the new trend of transnational education (TNE), the 10-year-old XJTLU is ready for the future. As many conventional colleges and universities are still bound by unsolved challenges, it is my sincere hope that our innovative XJTLU can be the sunshine during this coldest winter and push for a full bloom of the Chinese higher education reform as well as the development of the world's higher education!

Finally, I'd like to wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

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