University challenge as China thirsts for expertise

WHEN China started reaching out to the global business community the response was often guarded.

The fear, to put it bluntly, was that the relationship would be horribly one-sided

Sceptics believed that China would rip off our goods and ideas, and give nothing in return, apart from pollution.

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Over time this belief has become less entrenched, but some doubts remain.

One man who can take a balanced view is Terry Hodgkinson, who was chairman of the regional development agency Yorkshire Forward from 2003 to 2010.

He’s now a visiting professor affiliated to the business school at Leeds Metropolitan University. In his Yorkshire Forward days, he was instrumental in setting up a formal relationship between the Zhe jiang province in China, which has a population of 46 million people, and Yorkshire and the Humber.

Apart from export opportunities, Mr Hodgkinson believes the Chinese want to use the technical know-how of our academics. They are also interested in investing in Yorkshire’s green technology firms.

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He said: “China has a real thirst for the expertise of our universities. One issue is how can the universities keep their intellectual property (IP)? It’s very easy to steal it.

“We are going to see more production in the UK supporting exports to China, particularly highly technical equipment that needs sophisticated engineers.

“I suspect we’re going to see Chinese money flowing into companies in the UK, with the green agenda. The universities are bracing themselves for these new arrangements.”

Prof John Shutt, of Leeds Metropolitan University, raised concerns over the fate of the regional agreement between Yorkshire and Zhejiang following the demise of Yorkshire Forward. He said: “Somebody needs to pick up that wider relationship otherwise there is going to be a vacuum. It’s something the local enterprise partnerships should have their attention drawn to.”

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Josh Wong, a partner on the UK-China desk at law firm DLA Piper, added: “The link between Yorkshire and Zhejiang was immensely beneficial to Yorkshire businesses. With the demise of Yorkshire Forward, it is not obvious who is going to take that link forward.”

He added: “Local government contacts are very important for business in China.”