Tsinghua University of Beijing is partnering with the University of Washington to start a graduate institute in Bellevue’s Bel-Red Corridor that could grow to 3,000 students.
One of the most prestigious universities in China is joining forces with the University of Washington to run a graduate institute in Bellevue that will focus on technology and innovation.
The partnership with Tsinghua University of Beijing — sometimes called the MIT of China — will mark the first time that a Chinese research university has established a physical presence in the United States, UW officials say.
To jump-start the effort, Microsoft is donating $40 million, and the program will be based in the Spring District in the rezoned and redeveloping Bel-Red Corridor. No state money will be used.
Global Innovation Exchange (GIX)
What it is: A graduate-level institute that will teach technology using project-based learning.
Partners: University of Washington, Tsinghua University of Beijing, China. Two other university partners from other countries are expected to be announced in the next year.
Funding: Microsoft is giving $40 million to start the program. Other companies and nonprofits may join the institute later. No state money is involved.
What it will offer: A 15-month master’s degree, Master of Science in Technology Innovation.
Opening date: Fall 2016
Location: GIX will have a temporary location in Bellevue in the first year, then move into a 100,000-square-foot, 3-story building in the Spring District of Bellevue in fall 2017.
The Global Innovation Exchange, or GIX as it will be known, will start with a few dozen students in fall 2016, next fall, both American and Chinese. It could grow to 3,000 students in a decade. At least two other international universities are expected to join up.
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UW Interim President Ana Mari Cauce and Tsinghua President Qiu Yong made the announcement Thursday afternoon in downtown Bellevue, accompanied by Gov. Jay Inslee and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.
Nadella called it an “ambitious project with incredible promise.”
And Yong, speaking in Mandarin, said that while Seattle is now known in China because of “Sleepless in Seattle” and “Grey’s Anatomy,” it soon will be known for GIX.
In an interview last week, Cauce and Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith, who has worked on the project, said the program is unlike anything ever offered at the university.
Both Tsinghua and UW faculty will teach, in English. The students will earn a master’s degree over 15 months, and they’ll be charged with tackling great problems of this era: sustainability, health, inequality, environmental issues, transportation and clean energy, to name just a few.
“We do see technology as being a key in all of these areas,” Cauce said. “Technology isn’t just about engineering and science anymore.”
The program builds on the fields of computer science and electrical engineering but will span many other disciplines. The work will be project-based, with Chinese and American students working together in such fields as cloud computing and the “Internet of things,” the concept of connecting everyday objects to the Internet to make them smarter and capable of doing more.
Smith, who has long been involved in higher-education issues in Washington, described the partnership as a way to grow higher education in Seattle, which is “at a disadvantage” when compared with other U.S. cities that are tech-innovation centers, including Boston, New York, Chicago, the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles.
All of those cities have at least two major research universities; Boston has four. Seattle has one.
And while the UW handed out a record number of degrees — 364 — in computer science and computer engineering this spring, it turns away about two-thirds of the qualified students who want to major in those programs because there is not enough room. At the same time, local tech companies say they must import talent from other states and countries to fill vacant positions.
Smith said Microsoft saw it as “an opportunity to invest and grow … by bringing other universities here — students and faculty — in ways no region, state or country has ever done before.”
Microsoft believes GIX is something new that “can potentially put all of the good things about our economy on steroids,” he said.
The two universities will be equal partners in the venture, and Cauce says GIX will allow the UW to hire more top faculty, something that is a challenge in a competitive marketplace. It also “opens up tremendous research opportunities” and the chance for spinoff companies and products from some of the discoveries.
Microsoft will contribute money and mentors but will not have any role in governance of the institute; the curriculum will be owned by the faculty, Cauce said.
Tsinghua (pronounced TSHING-wah and sometimes abbreviated as THU), was founded in 1911. It is ranked with Peking University as the best university in China — and one of the best in Asia, according to Times Higher Education’s World University Rankings, one of several influential rankings of international universities.
Its alumni include the current president of China, Xi Jinping, and past president, Hu Jintao.
Tom Alberg, president of the venture-capital firm Madrona Venture Group, said the partnership is “a great deal for the Seattle area.” It will help bring more tech talent here and allow the UW to educate more Washington students in technology fields, he said.
The partnership will also reinforce and elevate Seattle’s status as a major global center of innovation, Alberg said. He said its closest comparison is Cornell Tech, a partnership between Cornell University and The Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, which is taking shape on New York’s Roosevelt Island.
Cauce said the UW is also excited about having a foot in the Spring District of the Bel-Red corridor, a 900-acre triangle of Bellevue that’s being rezoned and redeveloped, at a time when some areas of Seattle seem to be getting built out.
“It’s a wonderful place for us to be,” Cauce said.
Greg Johnson, president of Wright Runstad, said GIX will occupy a 100,000-square-foot, three-story building that he described as “a very flexible, lab-based experimental learning environment.” It will be built in the 16-block Spring District, which Wright Runstad and Shorenstein Properties are developing. The building won’t open until fall 2017, so GIX will open in a temporary location in 2016.
There’s no street address yet, just cleared land and a concrete pad, Johnson said. Nearby, 300 apartment units are under construction, and the Spring District will have a light-rail stop by 2023.
Both Cauce and Smith waved off concerns about the possibility that a partnership with a Chinese university could lead to corporate espionage or hacking. Smith said Microsoft has worked in partnership with Tsinghua University “quite possibly longer than any American technological company. We know the university well, and have the highest regard for it.”
Cauce said she believes that nothing but good can come from the two global superpowers working together and collaborating on humanity’s greatest challenges. “The solution to mistrust is more contact, not less,” she said.
There’s already a veritable pipeline of Chinese students coming to Washington for college.
At the UW this year, 2,507 undergraduates and 726 graduate students on the Seattle campus came from mainland China. Overall, the three UW campuses — in Seattle, Bothell and Tacoma — had 3,528 students from China.
Statewide, about 8,500 students from China attended universities and colleges in Washington in 2014, according to the Institute for International Education. Nationwide, more than a quarter-million students from China were studying in the U.S. that year, the institute reported.