Interview with Prof. Deng Guohua--by LI Xiaolin (November 1999)
Xiaolin Li: Professor Deng, welcome to the US and thanks for spending some time with us. What's the objective of your trip and how are you doing?
Guohua Deng: The objective of my trip is to investigate and learn from the business schools here in the US. I am senior visiting scholar sponsored by the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS). I have spent most of my time at the Daniels College of Business in University of Denver. I am interested in their education methods in the MBA program and the administrative approach of the school in general.
It has been a fulfilling trip. I have stayed in mainland China most of the time, except for two brief visits to Hong Kong and Singapore. So this trip has further opened up my mind's eye. More importantly, I have met many alumni wherever I traveled. Everybody wants to know how USTC is doing. We are very happy to know that.
L: You have been in USTC for more than 39 years, obviously you like USTC very much. Tell us why it is so special to you?
D: I went to USTC in 1960 at the age of 18. At that time, USTC was only two years old and enjoyed strong support from top government leaders. It was a very special university with concentrations on science and technology. My high school teachers and classmates all encouraged me to apply to USTC because of its excellent reputation. Many famous scholars, such as Yan Jici, Hua Luogeng, Ma Dayou, taught in USTC. Qian Xuesen was the chair of my department (Dept. 5). After I graduated in 1965, I liked the university so much that I stayed to this day.
Because I have been in USTC for so long, I am lucky enough to experience all the three periods in the history of USTC. The first period is what we call "Beijing Chuang4 Jian4", from 1958 to late 1960s.
The second period is called "Anhui Chong3 Jian3", from 1970 to middle 1990s. In 1970, USTC was forced to relocate to Anqing and then Hefei. We took over the campus of Hefei Normal College and squeezed all our equipment and people in that tiny place. Most equipment was damaged and many people left. But the ones who remained stood up and eventually expanded USTC.
We are now in the third period, "Di4 San1 Ci4 Chuang4 Ye4". This period started three years ago, with the exclusive focus of building USTC to a world-class university. The Central Government started to implement the "Ke1 Jiao4 Xin1Guo2" policy and support 10 or so universities to achieve the first-class status in the world. USTC is one of the designated universities. It is a period of both opportunities and challenges.
L: What is the darkest moment you had in USTC?
D: I had by far the most difficult time in USTC shortly after USTC moved to Anhui in 1970. Hefei was a small city. The campus we inherited had a tiny area of 60,000 square meters. Whatever equipment we had left was badly damaged. Many people left. Education was all but stopped. But we didn't give up. With the help of the Anhui Provincial Government, we struggled to stand up on our feet.
The USTC people have active minds and that helped us tremendously after the Culture Revolution. We were one of the first universities to start recruiting aggressively. USTC promoted many new ideas and tried many new concepts. Shortly after, we re-established USTC as one of the top universities in China.
L: It is interesting that you are teaching in both Dept 5 and the business school. How does this work?
D: I am a professor in Dept 5 and I teach the "Air Dynamics" course there. As you know, I have been in an administrative post since 1990. I thought I should know management very well to be successful in that post. So I started to sit in some management classes. After a while, people asked me to teach the "Management Science" class to the undergraduate business majors, double majors and in the MBA program. My administrative and teaching duties work together very well.
L: We know the business school is young. How is it received in China? At what level does USTC want its business school to be eventually?
D: Obviously the business school itself is young, even though the individual departments have been around for a long time. But then students could start to apply MBA programs at the national level only 3 years ago. I think the perception people have from outside has a lot to do with the effort we put in from inside. We want to build USTC into a world-class university. That by definition includes the business school as well. It will take a lot of effort to build an excellent reputation for our business school.
L: Some people said that the best time has passed in USTC. Do you agree? Why or why not?
D: I do have a personal opinion on this question. Since I have been involved one way or another in the recruiting process from 1977 to today, I want to tell you how we are doing on that front.
In the earlier years of this time period, USTC had the first-mover advantage and enjoyed strong support from the Central Government. We had huge success and recruited many top students. A common quoted figure is that we once recruited 16 or so #1s from different provinces, cities and regions.
In recent years, we are not getting so many #1s. Does that mean we are not getting top students? I don't agree and let me tell you why. In recent years, China has fully opened up its economy. Both the universities and the economy itself have had an unprecedented run. The market has a huge influence on what high school graduates consider as the most desirable universities. In one year science and technology are the hottest majors, in another it might be finance, business, or whatever. This has brought strong competition among different universities. Another thing to look into is that all the universities in China recruit about 1,300,000 high school graduates every year. That translates into 13,000 students in the top 1 %. How many students do the top 3-5 universities in China recruit every year? This year USTC had a freshman class of 1,800, and that's the highest number we ever had. Third, last year the Chinese Youth Daily published a comprehensive university ranking with 6 criteria. USTC ranked #3 in recruiting. Consider the longer histories, better locations and other advantages other top universities have, I think it is a fair statement that USTC has remained to be very competitive. Finally, USTC no longer looks at recruiting separately. We have this "Yi1 Tian2 Long3" concept, which means we recruit the best freshmen possible, provide the best education possible and help them find the best jobs possible. So far we have been very successful in all three areas. USTC is still one of the most sought-after universities in China, and we want all our alumni to know that.
L: What is the most daunting challenge USTC is facing these days?
D: The most daunting challenge to USTC today is to become a world-class university. With a relatively remote location, being a traditionally science and technology school, USTC and all its people, including all overseas alumni, need to work very hard to achieve that goal. What some old schools can achieve with 1 % effort, we at USTC have to put in 3, 5 or 10 % effort to match.
We have some good news to report. Not long ago, The Department of Education of China, CAS and the Anhui Provincial Government sat down and had a meeting on how to help USTC achieve that goal. That meeting provided an important momentum that USTC badly needs. Second, there are efforts going on in USTC, from top to bottom, to work on this goal. Let me give you an example. A group of volunteers in Dept 5 organized a society survey. They sent out more than 8000 copies of questionnaires to 81 high schools all over the country to ask teachers and students how much they know about USTC. The return rate is almost 90%. Finally, we have all of you, our overseas alumni. You are a special force that USTC highly values and is very proud of. The AF not only provides the Outstanding New student Awards, but presents them in person, complemented by certificates mailed to the high schools where those recipients are from. It helped tremendously.
L: How can we help USTC more to achieve its goal?
D: There are many things our alumni can do and every one of us can contribute. We believe all alumni should love, understand, support and promote USTC. There is no question our alumni love USTC. But how many of us really understand what is going on in USTC now? What matters to USTC the most in the present period? Even those of us who are working in USTC need to understand more of USTC. Without a good understanding, support will be tentative and people may not be as aggressive as they can to promote USTC. We hope we all should keep the communication channel open between USTC and the alumni community, and start from there.
Close contact with USTC is really essential and I suggest people utilize all channels possible. There can be official contacts between USTC and AF and local Alumni Associations). There can be official contacts between research departments here and departments in USTC. Then you can have contacts at the group and individual levels.
Within the next three years, USTC needs to recruit 30 to 50 top young (Zhong1 Qin1 Nian2) researchers from all over the world. USTC also supports, financially and administratively, 200 or so short-term visitors from all over the world (including other places in China) to Hefei every year. In addition, there is a plan to send our about 100 core USTC faculty on short-term visits to institutions around the globe. I know we have many alumni working in the academia and there are many things they can do to help in this regard.
Finally you can do more for the little brothers and sisters who are now in USTC. What about some help in their applications to schools here? The high percentage of USTC students going to graduate schools in and out of China remains to be one of our strong selling points. In USTC we strongly encourage undergraduate students to work on research proposals, can people here in the US help on that?
As long as leaders and faculty, students and alumni, central and local governments all work together, USTC will achieve its goal to become a world-class university. The harder we work, the sooner the goal will be reached.
L: Here in the AF, we are talking about some programs such the goodwill fund, summer internships, and academic exchange between USTC and alumni who are working the academia in the US. Please comment on these.
D: The goodwill fund just got started. I know special funds have been set up for Depts 2 and 5. As you well know, it will help solve a big problem for many financially challenged students. We have been talking to companies in Shenzhen in which USTC alumni have a strong footing about summer internships as well. Right now we are not sure exactly how to execute that, although we do think it is a very helpful program. Academic exchange is extremely important. We talked about that earlier. One problem is that many offices and divisions in USTC, such as the Foreign Affairs, Graduate School, Teaching Affairs, Alumni and ours, are all involved. How are we going to coordinate all these? I guess it would be an excellent topic to talk to President Zhu when his delegation visits here in January 2000.
L: Anything else you want to say to all USTC overseas alumni?
D: We are very glad to see that many alumni love USTC and are concerned about its well being. All of you in the AF Governing Board volunteer your time when you are busy with your work and life. Our overseas alumni community is a treasure to USTC. There is no question about that. We want to thank you all very much.
Early this year, there is this popular song "Come back and visit home often" (Chang3 Hui3 Jia4 Kan4 Kan4). We welcome all of you come back to Hefei and Chang3 Hui3 Jia4 Kan4 Kan4.