Center for Studies in Strategies of Technology
and Higher Education
Zhejiang University
People’s Republic of China
*email address protected*

Department of Public Administration
Zhejiang University of Science and Technology
People’s Republic of China
*email address protected*


The entrepreneurial university is an exotic flower growing at the balance point between market demand and academic tradition. To study and develop it further is the first strategy chosen to respond to the new demands of academic capitalism. However, does the entrepreneurial university model really exist in China, while lacking the true sense of academic tradition in the west? The answer will be found from the entrepreneurial practices flashing the “Chinese characteristics” of Zhejiang University with the reputation of the “Eastern Cambridge”; Tsinghua University with the reputation of the “MIT in China”; and Huazhong University of Science and Technology with a reputation of the “Miniature of Higher Education since the founding of the New People’s Republic of China”. Meanwhile, the evolution path of the Chinese entrepreneurial university will also be witnessed.


In this article, three top research universities in China – Huazhong University of Science and Technology, Zhejiang University, and Tsinghua University, will be examined. Technically speaking, with the advantage of high-tech disciplines such as science and engineering, these universities are the very universities that incline to manifest academic capitalism. The tendency of organizational transformation of the universities in China can be revealed through studying their actual response to academic capitalism. Tsinghua University and Zhejiang University rank in the top three in China, and with their solid comprehensive strength, they are located in northern and eastern China respectively, which are developed regions in economy and culture. They were initially established by emulating the American model. Then, they changed into multidisciplinary universities of technology as a result of ‘the 1952 University Restructuring in China’. Later, they returned to comprehensive research universities in which science and engineering disciplines dominated, with others developing accordingly. In contrast, Huazhong University of Science and Technology is a new style of university established since the founding of the People’s Republic of China (built by emulating the Soviet model) and located in central China. Even with a limited history of sixty-two years (established in 1953, also during the 1952 University Restructuring) and being located in central China, the regional economy is less developed, but with a better academic development potential, this university rushed into the top ten in almost all the domestic key university rankings. Therefore, in the government’s perspective, this university is a promising aggressive research university.
The reasons for choosing these three universities as case studies was that they not only cover the main development modes in two historical contexts and main development areas of higher education in China, but they have changed profoundly since the 1952 University Restructuring, in order to meet the needs of national economic construction, and to actively respond to national calls, keeping pace with the development of the country’s politics and economy. They have always treated their services and contributions to the national economy and political construction as responsibilities of their own. Furthermore, they have been managed directly by the Ministry of Education. (There is a deeply rooted tradition in China that government manages a number of key universities directly for two reasons: (a) because of the impact of the collectivist culture and (b) limited resources.
Taking 985 Project and 211 Project for example, government directly manages them not only because they are important but also because there are limited national resources in China. Government prefers to fund a few universities with a better future to set good examples for others, and lead them to develop in the right direction. These three universities are key universities under the direct management of central government with funding priorities. According to the planning of the Ministry of Education, Zhejiang University and Tsinghua University will accomplish the goal to become world-class universities in the middle of this century, while Huazhong University of Science and Technology will become a world-renowned first-class university in the middle of this century). Therefore, the development of these universities can best reflect how Chinese universities respond to the country’s needs.
It is worth mentioning that Huazhong University of Science and Technology was established to meet the needs of industrial development, and its developments and achievements are known as the miniature of the new China in higher education. To study them to identify whether the entrepreneurial university model really exists in China, we will reveal the evolution path with Chinese characteristics.


2.1 Changing Schooling Ideas
Facing the growing market demands, a positive entrepreneurial change has been made from top to bottom in these three universities. In educational philosophy and guiding ideology, we found a significant transformation of their guiding ideology.
The President of Huazhong University of Science and Technology, an Academician, Zhou Ji of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, organized leaders to carry out a large-scale review on the new round of educational thought, to provide effective guidance to universities for the next stage, through concluding experiences and exploring and upgrading the theory based on the operational practices of university-run enterprises. Through the review, the intrinsic link between the three functions of teaching, research, and social services, was clarified further, and the new guiding ideology based on the talents of training – teaching, research, industry, became the three pillars on which coordinated development has been established. To meet the new needs of China’s modernization, and accord with the development laws of the modern university, the schooling idea ‘one root, two centers, three functions’ has been confirmed further in Tsinghua University. In 1995, the schooling ideal of ‘comprehensive, research-oriented, and open-ended’ was proposed, where the ‘open-ended’ indicated that the ‘social service function’ was identified, and the “outward-looking” schooling way was positioned. Furthermore, its open-schooling ideal was important for social development, cooperating with local government and enterprises closely, strengthening knowledge innovation and dissemination, commercializing research achievements, and nurturing knowledge-based industries to provide intellectual support for social development.
In 2000, the first ‘Shuang Dai Hui’, a meeting in which the main faculty representatives and party representatives of this university participated, was held after ‘the 1998 Four Universities Merging’. At that meeting, the development target ‘by 2017, the 120th Anniversary of Zhejiang University, it will be a first-class research-oriented, comprehensive, and innovative university, at the world’s advanced level, which will become an important base for high-quality talent training, scientific research, knowledge innovation, high-tech radiation and high-tech industrialization, and international cultural exchange’ was proposed. At this time, both the leaders and faculties recognized that not only must they face the international academic frontier, but also the practical needs at the national and regional levels.
Since then, the ideal that building a world-class university and serving the development of national and regional economies has been upheld. On this basis, the service concept ‘high-level, intense radiation’ has been formed, and the general social service idea ‘foothold in Zhejiang, serving the west, facing the nationwide, towards the world’ has been established. After that, the idea of schooling was transformed from ‘two centers’ into three major tasks: talent training, research, and high-tech industrialization in these three universities.

2.2 Capitalizing Knowledge
Since the mid-1980s, when the academic capitalism wave swept the globe, these three universities have perceived the change, and responded rapidly to market needs and made strategic adjustments. With strong technological advantages, they have innovated to meet the demands of the market, and transformed technological achievements to establish university-run enterprises, such as Tsinghua Tong fang, Tsinghua Zi Guang, SUPCON, Zhejiang Rand, HGL, NC Central and so on, which are listed companies derived from superior disciplines. At the same time, the teachers in these fields have been actively communicating and cooperating with enterprises. While providing technical advice and technology
transfer, not only has the industrial structure been greatly promoted and upgraded, but more resources have been found for the university’s development of the subjects.
In the past five years, just reviewing the situation of collaboration with provincial enterprises, Zhejiang University has undertaken 103 major science and technology projects, and signed and implemented over 11,000 contracts with enterprises in Zhejiang province, with a profit of more than 2.7 billion Yuan (RMB).
Meanwhile, through technology transfer, the contribution to economic development increased rapidly from Zhejiang University. From 1998 to 2009, the technology export turnover jumped from 86 million Yuan (RMB) to 814 million Yuan (RMB), signing more than 3000 contracts with enterprises, with nearly 5 billion contract funding. The social and economic benefits from technology export arose from 18 billion Yuan (RMB) in 1998, to 200 billion Yuan (RMB) in 2009, and effectively supported the construction of national and local technological innovation system. Tsinghua University signed 89 patent cooperation projects, with approximately 115 million Yuan RMB in contract funding. In 2011, Huazhong University of Science and Technology made a net profit of 384 million Yuan (RMB) from the transformation of scientific and technological achievements. In the output technology turnover rankings from universities launched in the “National Technology Market Statistics Annual Report”, these three universities always appear at the forefront. Especially, Zhejiang University ranked first in five consecutive years.

2.3 Adopting University-Industry-Government Collaborative Innovation
Tsinghua University serves regional economic development through cooperation with ministries, local governments, enterprises, and overseas, like the Zhong Guan Cun Science Park.
By the end of 2012, Tsinghua University had signed agreements with more than twenty provinces and eighty prefecture-level cities. Up till now, through the Enterprise Cooperation Committee, Tsinghua University has established comprehensive stable partnerships with more than 190 well-known enterprises at home and abroad, such as the Bao Steel Group, Procter and Gamble (P&G), Intel and so on.
The university-industry-government collaborative innovation alliances with world-class universities, research institutes, and overseas renowned multinational corporations, has been established, such as the alliances of clean cars, clean coal, and energy-saving buildings, which are subordinated to the ‘US-China Clean Energy Research Center’ established with the support of the Ministry of Science and Technology Development and Reform Commission in China, and the US Department of Energy Bureau jointly. Through the Local Cooperation Department in Zhejiang University, the stable and sustainable cooperation relationship with local government and enterprises has been established, achieving university-government-industry collaborative innovation. For example, comprehensive and technology cooperation agreements have been signed and implemented with nine prefecture-level cities in Zhejiang province, seventeen economic counties, and Suzhou, Wuxi, Changzhou, and other Yangtze River Delta regions.

Further, strategic cooperation agreements have been signed with twenty-three national enterprises, docking with the China Pu Tian Information Industry Group, the East China Electric Power Construction Group, etc. Huazhong University of Science and Technology has made linkages with more than 100 large and medium-sized enterprises in Hubei Province, such as the Wuhan Iron and Steel Group and Intel, through establishing university-industry cooperation, and enterprise-expert cooperation committees.
Besides, Huazhong University of Science and Technology has participated actively in the construction of the China Optical Valley, which is a typical regional innovative system in central China similar to Silicon Valley in the US. For example, Huazhong University of Science and Technology has established long-lasting, close relationships with enterprises through building collaborative innovation platforms to meet the development needs of strategic emerging industries of the China Optical Valley, such as the Wuhan Optical Industrial Technology Research Institute, Wuhan Intelligent Equipment Industrial Technology Research Institute, built jointly with the Wuhan municipal government, to promote university-government-industry to develop harmoniously in the construction of ‘China Optical Valley’.

2.4 Forming Hybrid Organizations on the University-Industry Interface

2.4.1 The National Technology Transfer Center
To promote the transformation of scientific and technological achievements, the State Economic and Trade Commission and the Ministry of Education have established national technology transfer centers in major colleges and universities with high-tech advantages. Tsinghua University and Huazhong University of Science and Technology were two of the first six key universities selected to establish National Technology Transfer institutions in 2001.
In 2006, on the basis of Technical Exchange Center, the Technology Transfer Center of Zhejiang University was founded. With significant achievements, the Technology Transfer Center of Zhejiang University and other universities were selected for the demonstration of technology transfer. It is worth mentioning that the International Technology Transfer Center subordinate to the National Technology Transfer Center of Tsinghua University received the IPTEC 2007 International Technology Transfer Award (college class). Although the Technology Transfer Center of Zhejiang University has been established for a few years, its performance is outstanding, playing an important role in the development of energy, environment, agriculture, advanced manufacturing, and creating more than 20 billion for the benefit of society, being the first among all the universities in China in terms of the amount of output technology turnover, transfer technology projects, and serving enterprises. The National Technology Transfer Center of Huazhong University of Science and Technology grasps the technology needs of enterprises directly to serve industry.
Taking the integration and transformation of common iron and steel technology for example, in 2002, the National Technology Transfer Center cooperated with Bao Steel, Wuhan Iron and Steel, Anshan Iron and Steel, Maanshan Iron and Steel, Lianyuan Steel,
and Kunming Steel, under the organization of the Metallurgical Industry Association, and reached a consensus on integration, transformation, and sharing of the intellectual property of common laser technology. Laser enhancement technology has been transferred and applied in the Hunan Lianyuan Iron and Steel Group, and the Sichuan Chuanwei Iron and Steel Company, which has made nearly 200 million Yuan (RMB) for the Hunan Lianyuan Iron and Steel Group. The transformation and application of laser hair technology at the Wuhan Iron and Steel Group, and Kunming Iron and Steel Group Corporation, has made an annual increase in profit of 1.6 billion Yuan (RMB), and 103 million Yuan (RMB) respectively.

2.4.2 University Science Parks and Enterprise Incubators, University-run Enterprises
Tsinghua University Science Park was established as early as 1994, which was one of the earliest university science parks in China, and was approved as the National University Science Park by the Ministry of Science and Technology, and the Ministry of Education, together with Zhejiang University and Huazhong University of Science and Technology Science Parks in May 2001, to achieve the aim of transforming science and technological achievements, incubating high-tech enterprises, and training innovative and entrepreneurial talents through constructing platforms of incubation, information, investment and training services. In the 2010, ranking total assets and profit of national university-run enterprises, these three universities ranked at the top.
Tsinghua University Holdings Limited ranked second with 50,604,240,000 Yuan (RMB) (total asset) and 1,141,021,600 Yuan (RMB) (profit) respectively, Huazhong University of Science and Technology Industry Group Co, Limited ranked fifth and fourth respectively with 6,145,698,700 Yuan RMB (total assets) and 518,188,300 Yuan RMB (profit), and Zhejiang University Yuan zheng Holding Group Co, Ltd ranked eighth and ninth respectively with 3,532,982,200 Yuan (RMB) (total assets) and 182,010,200 Yuan (RMB) (profit).
Tsinghua University Science Park is located in the heart of Zhong guan cun Science Park, in the Haidian District of Beijing. Through eighteen years of exploration and practice, it has not only been identified as the only A-class University Science Park in China, but also the best in the International Tech Park Community. On the basis of superior disciplines, some star-listed companies such as Tsinghua Tongfang, Tsinghua Ziguang, and Chengzhigufen, have been formed. By the end of 2011, more than 680 spin-offs had settled in Zhejiang University Science Park to transform the high-tech achievements from Zhejiang University, of which seventy percent of the projects came from Zhejiang University. Until then, more than 500 scientific and technological achievements deriving from Zhejiang University had been transformed, and more than 100 spin-offs had been incubated successfully, such as Leon International, Sky Network, and SUPCON.
Huazhong University of Science and Technology Science Park is one of the key projects of the East Lake High-tech Zone (National University Science Park) constructed by central government, which is an important part of the Wuhan Optics Valley of China. It has developed so quickly that it has become the backbone force of the Science Park in East Lake High-tech Zone, known as “HUST mode”.

By the end of 2010, eighty-six enterprises had settled in the science park, of which more than sixty percent were optoelectronics industries, more than seventy percent had been founded and run by the faculties and alumni of HUST from industrialization of scientific and technological achievements.
In 2010, the sales revenue of 5.344 billion Yuan (RMB) was achieved with tax paid of 317 million Yuan (RMB), a total of 26.344 billion Yuan (RMB) in sales income, with 1.247 billion Yuan (RMB) for tax revenue, and 9346 jobs were created. Many famous brands of university-run enterprises have been formed, such as HUST Technology, HG Laser, NC of Central China, and Tianyu Information.


Through the inspection of these three universities, we have found that their entrepreneurial practices are in full compliance with the criteria of the entrepreneurial university. we can boldly conclude that these universities have been developed towards the entrepreneurial university model existing in China. However, there are some “Chinese characteristics” that should be given special attention.
Firstly, it can be seen that the formation of the entrepreneurial university in China is a self-selection of each university which is government-pulled. As for these three universities, the choice of entrepreneurial university is their self-selection based on the discipline characteristics (high-tech advantages), and the tradition of schooling in the value proposition of market demand and academic development. That is to say, not all universities must evolve into an entrepreneurial university under the impetus of government policies, but must be rooted in the universities’ own tradition of schooling and discipline characteristics.
Secondly, the process of transition to an entrepreneurial university of the three universities reflects that their evolution paths were not completely in accordance with the American model, namely linear path but non-linear. Entrepreneurial activities are throughout the entire campus, and different forms of entrepreneurship are being selected based on the multidisciplinary nature and characteristics, such as the Humanities and Social Sciences through training, decision-making advice; and science and engineering through the transformation of scientific and technological achievements. Therefore, it is evident that the overall entrepreneurial thinking, rather than the local high-tech entrepreneurial action is emphasized in the entrepreneurial university in China. From the perspective of the choice of path, a binding mode of three paths are evolving, from research university to entrepreneurial university, from teaching university to entrepreneurial university, or entrepreneurship preceding research, which is a typical non-linear path. The Chinese model is more similar to the European model.
In China, universities have always been linked with industry. For example, Huazhong University of Science and Technology originated from the needs of industrial development. In the past, teaching and the practice of industrial production were closely linked. This linkage was industry-led. Universities would not initiate to lead the development and stimulate the higher needs of the industry. Universities were passive, due to the tradition that
the government had always run universities in China. In the past, there was no absolute autonomy. With the decentralization of autonomy, the cooperative model has transited from industry-university to university-industry gradually. The rise of university-run enterprise in China was not a strange phenomenon, in that the intellectual property rights could not be effectively protected, and the high-tech achievements from universities were not needed urgently in the manufacturing industries. Therefore, professors had to be dedicated to founding and running firms themselves in the universities.
In other words, university-run enterprises are the inevitable transition in the process of the formation of entrepreneurial university. During the transition period, teachers dedicated to high-tech entrepreneurship have a dual identity, both as teachers and entrepreneurs. The phenomenon that a teacher is both a professor and chairman of university-run enterprise is not unusual in the campuses of Chinese universities. With technological development, university-run enterprises will gradually leave the campus to attract investment in social venture capital and develop in a large scale. We agree that the university-run enterprise is a temporary development strategy of the entrepreneurial university in China, and firmly believe that university-run enterprises will gradually evolve into spin-off companies, which is a concentrated expression of the Chinese path.
In conclusion, from the perspective of the cooperative modes of university, industry, and government, as for the linkage between university and industry, it evolved from the industry-university model to the university-industry model. As for the linkage between universities and government, it evolved from the government-university model to the university-government.
Finally, the interactive model of university-government-industry will be formed little by little. However, we must focus on the role of government in the formation of the ideal model that government may still be dominant at any stage, which could be seen as a government-pulled model. If the ideal model in western countries is hoped to be formed in China, an evolving course will be needed. Obviously, this is due to the situation of China now.


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Xiao dong Zou, Doctor of Management, is a Professor in the Center for Studies in Strategies of Technology and Higher Education, and Executive Vice President of Zhejiang University. His research interests include policy of Technology and Education, Engineering Education, and Management of Higher Education.

Ye Liu, Doctor of Management, is a Lecturer in the Department of Public Administration, Zhejiang University of Science and Technology. Her research interests include the entrepreneurial university, entrepreneurial ventures, and management of higher education, especially the pathways of transformation of entrepreneurial universities in China.