Last month, academic staff gathered for the latest edition of the annual Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University Research Forum to discuss the future of research at the University.

This year’s event featured talks from Professor Youmin Xi, Executive President of XJTLU; Professor Zhoulin Ruan, Vice President of Academic Affairs (VPAA); Professor Fei Ma, Associate Vice President of Research and Impact; Professor Beibei Tang, Dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS); Dr Lixian Qian, Associate Dean for Research at International Business School Suzhou (IBSS); and Professor Lei Fu, Associate Dean for Learning and Teaching at the XJTLU Wisdom Lake Academy of Pharmacy.

Attendees also received a guest talk from Professor Jiansheng Jiang from the College of Nano Science & Technology at Soochow University.

Professor Youmin Xi

Professor Youmin Xi

In the opening speech, Professor Xi said: “The purpose of the Forum is to explore the best way for XJTLU to optimise its research.”

One thing that is crucial to improve research, he says, is to have a strong body of research staff. “The University currently has just over 1,000 academic staff. We want to grow that to between 1,500 and 2,000 over the next 10 years.”

Professor Zhoulin Ruan

Professor Zhoulin Ruan


In his speech, VPAA Professor Ruan reflected on the growth and impact of XJTLU’s research output over the past year. Looking at the Essential Science Indicators (ESI), he says: “In all the different indicators, such as citations, top papers and fields rankings, we are improving.”

He says 64 of XJTLU’s papers were considered top papers according to ESI, which is an increase of 15 from the previous year.

XJTLU’s citations are up by 12,227 from January 2022 to 38,958 in January 2023. Citations have also increased by an average of 1.55 to 12.04 citations per paper.

According to the ESI Global All Fields Ranking, XJTLU is ranked 3,518 out of 8,360 – up 454 places from this time last year.

However, current research strengths were only one part of Professor Ruan’s talk. “One purpose of today’s Forum is to gather together to think about what the University’s future research focus will be. In three or four years, what will XJTLU, as a research-led international university, be known for globally?”

Currently, XJTLU is listed in ESI’s top 1% for three research fields: Engineering, Computer Science, and Social Sciences (General). Professor Ruan believes an additional three have the potential to join those ranks soon – Ecology/Environment, Economics and Business, and Material Sciences.

Professor Fei Ma

Professor Fei Ma

Status quo

In his presentation, Professor Ma spoke about the current state of research at XJTLU. In 2022, eight of the 13 schools, academies and research centres at XJTLU maintained or increased their research output, and three schools (School of Science, School of Advanced Technology and IBSS) published more than 100 papers each.

“According to Web of Science, from 2017 to 2021, electrical and electronic engineering and computer science are XJTLU’s most active research areas, publishing the most research. However, publications in the fields of computer science and environment and ecology are the most impactful, meaning the papers in these fields are widely cited,” says Professor Ma.

He also spoke about the need for government funding. In the 2021-2022 academic year, 46 projects were granted government funding out of 237 applications.

“Project funding grew from 7.1 million RMB in the 2020-2021 academic year to 26.5 million RMB last academic year.

“Compared to our grants in the past, we’ve made progress,” Professor Ma says. “There was a big jump last year over the previous year.”

In addition to research project funding, intellectual property (IP) has also seen a rise. In the 2020-2021 academic year, there were 79 applications for IP protections (patents, copyright and trademarks), and 25 were granted.

In the last academic year, applications dropped to 55, but the number granted grew to 33.

“You can apply for any number of IP protections, but the key is how many can be commercialised. We need to pay attention to the quality rather than quantity,” he says.

Professor Beibei Tang

Professor Beibei Tang

Future moves

Fostering a research culture was a focus for many of the talks. In his speech, Professor Ruan introduced a new project: the Professors of XJTLU Public Lecture series. “Last year and this year, the University hired 17 professors from outside of the University. We have invited them to give talks about their journeys and expertise.”

The lecture series will be chaired by HSS’s Professor Tang, who spoke at the Research Forum about how her School focused on developing its research culture: “It’s important to identify your research strength, support different kinds of research activities, expand your research networks, offer institutional-level support, and provide consistent and coherent research mentoring.

“Building an institutional research culture is not something that can happen overnight. It’s a long process involving diverse, complicated factors. But once it starts growing, the research culture will become a powerful instrument for the development of our University.”

The Research Forum audience

By Patricia Pieterse
Edited by Catherine Diamond
Photos courtesy of the Research Management Office

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