Expectations run high as Westlake University, China's first private university aimed at cultivating high-level talent in advanced technology and reaching the forefront of scientific research, is expected to open next year.
A brainchild of a group of top Chinese academics, the university, whose campus is still under construction near scenic West Lake in Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang province, will be the country's first private doctorate-granting university. One of its aims is to rival international counterparts such as Rockefeller University and the California Institute of Technology.
Recruitment of faculty members and doctoral students has been underway since the establishment of the Westlake Institute for Advanced Study in December 2016.
As the country's first private, small-scale yet comprehensive institute for advanced study, WIAS forms the foundation of Westlake University.
Shi Yigong, a Princeton University-trained molecular biologist and currently a Tsinghua University vice-president, is a co-founder of WIAS and heads the institute.
At WIAS' inauguration ceremony in December last year, Shi said he envisioned the future Westlake University as "a top-level, research-oriented global university" that "strives to represent the scientific strength of China, to influence the nation's future, and to promote inclusive development and progress".
In a recent speech at the annual Zhejiang Entrepreneurs Convention, Shi confirmed that the university's opening is set for next year.
He was also quoted by Zhejiang Online as saying that the university is expected to surpass Rockefeller University by the end of 2019 in terms of the size and strength of faculty.
The establishment of Westlake University was initiated by a team of seven top Chinese academics, including Shi, in March 2015, when they proposed to the central government the establishment of a new and advanced research-oriented university.
In 2016, a foundation was established, and land and other resources were allocated for establishment of WIAS and the construction of the Westlake campus.
Shi considered the establishment of WIAS and the future Westlake University as "entrusted with expectations from all communities of society and the dream of a generation".
He said China has been catching up in higher education and scientific research but still lags in basic research, which he says is the real source of innovation and is greatly needed as China aims to revive its past glory.
Shi, along with many academics who have been calling for the establishment of high-profile research universities in China, believes the addition of private top-level research institutions will add more vitality to the academic scene.
Westlake's financial support will come from the Hangzhou Westlake Education Foundation as well as government research and development funding. The university plans to recruit about 200 professors from around the world and nearly 2,000 researchers.
"We hope that after 10 or 20 years, Westlake University in Hangzhou, China, will be seen as a private institution of higher education built with Chinese characteristics and well respected by the world," said Shi.