TU Delft: Collaborating with China: in search of a balance

“Partnering with China has pros and cons – it is not a black and white situation”, said Tim van der Hagen, President of the Executive Board of TU Delft at the recently held symposium on 9 November. “There are risks, and people worry about knowledge protection, about dual use. It is important that together and in dialogue with external parties and experts, we help our researchers find the right balance for their specific joint project. A symposium like this one and the China Tools living document our university developed earlier this year are a real, concrete help in navigating the waters of academic collaboration with China”.

Roderick Wols, Deputy Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in China, echoed Van der Hagen’s views on the importance of finding a balance between closing doors or just hoping for the best: “It is key to be very well informed and to take appropriate measures to mitigate the risks. China is very transparent about its ambitions for self-sufficiency and technological leadership and of course there are concerns – including how the lack of academic freedom in the country will affect a research cooperation”, he commented. “On the other hand, China presents opportunities for innovation and to test and scale up new concepts, and for collaborations that support universities in the Netherlands to maintain their leading positions as research institutions.”

An important dialogue
Their interventions were followed by presentations by guest speakers from the Embassy and Consulate of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in China, who all highlighted the need for dialogue and to keep building awareness on the topic.

Roderick Wols, Deputy Ambassador, presented on “Why finding the balance is needed (for TU Delft)”
David Bekkers, Senior Innovation Office, Dutch Consulate in Shanghai, expanded on “What research opportunities can be valuable for TU Delft and Dutch academic institution”, and
Esmé Cartens, Attaché Education and Science in Beijing, reflected on “What risks can there be part in partnering with China for TU Delft and Dutch academic institutions given the core values of Dutch Academic Institutions (human rights, academic freedom, research integrity, diversity, knowledge security)”.
In addition, three breakout sessions on Balance, Opportunities and Risks were moderated respectively by TU Delft Greater China Faculty Representatives professor Daan van Eijk (Industrial Design Engineering), professor Zheng Bing Wang (Civil Engineering and Geoscience), and Integrity Officer professor Ibo van de Poel.

A practical compass to navigate the collaboration journey
Organised by Peter Gill, Senior Policy Advisor China at TU Delft and the Greater China Faculty Representative team, this second symposium follows the release earlier this year of the Partnering with China – Concrete Tools for TU Delft (China Tools) – a practical guide for TU Delft researchers and support staff to help them find answers and assess the potential risks of partnering with China.

Structured around key sections, it takes researchers along the collaboration journey from the first idea in the initialisation stage, through to the negotiation, project execution and evaluation phases – covering topics such as due diligence, contracting and IP issues, cultural differences​​ on ethical matters, legal jurisdictions, communications, project governance and project operability, to name a few.

The toolkit draws upon the extensive know-how relevant to global partnerships available in the TU Delft community and is the result of a collaborative effort with internal and external experts. It is a living, regularly updated document to ensure its guidance remains relevant.

A timely initiative
The China Tools and the symposia come at a time of heightened public and governmental interest in the debate around the desirability of entering in research partnerships with China. In particular in light of the expected national guidelines for knowledge security due to be published end of January 2022, TU Delft is taking an active role in both supporting its own academic community and in encouraging open and valuable dialogue with other universities and experts partners.

The framework of the China Tools was presented at launch of the Dutch China Knowledge Network organised by the Clingendael think tank last August. Also, the China Tools have been shared with the Universities of The Netherlands and Ministry of Education, Culture and Science.

Furthermore, the recent appointment of Peter Weijland as Program Director Knowledge Security and International Partnerships, goes to strengthen the University’s commitment to support researches in making the most of opportunities whilst prudently assessing and dealing with potential pitfalls.