A "dating platform" for engineers
China is an important market and is becoming increasingly significant as a location for science. An alumni network offers up-to-date first-hand knowledge and exchange.
“It’s like a dating platform for engineers”, says Jizu Zhang with a laugh. “We create opportunities for students, graduates, universities and businesses to get to know each other.” Zhang is among the organisers of the Sino-German Alumni Expert Network for Engineering, one of seven expert networks launched by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research in October 2017 as part of the Sino-German Alumni Expert Networks (DCHAN for short). These networks promote exchange with China as an increasingly important research location and market, and build bridges even in politically difficult times. “All students and graduates with a Sino-German background are welcome to join the network”, says Zhang.
In July, Zhang organised a workshop on “Renewable Energy and E-Mobility” in Aachen. “The meeting was an intersection point for members of all technical disciplines, from laser welding to autonomous driving”, he explains. Many of them work for market-leading corporations in the vehicle and mechanical engineering industries in China and Germany such as Continental, Volkswagen, Audi, Daimler or Bosch. Half of the 70 attendees came from China. At more than 20 lectures, they discussed the basics and potential applications of their subjects; they also took the opportunity to network widely across academic disciplines. Acting as intermediaries between cultures, these alumni enable access to joint industrial and research projects, among other things.
The basis: Cooperation between Aachen and Beijing
The basis of the network is a long-established, trustful cooperation between RWTH in Aachen and Tsinghua University in China’s capital of Beijing. The two leading higher education institutions have been offering a double Master's degree, i.e. a degree awarded by both universities, since 2001. Over 800 students have graduated from the programme so far; many of them are now members of the DCHAN network for engineering (DCHAN-Engineering for short), as the double degree has given rise to a strategic cooperation network over the past two years. Far beyond the double degree, this network connects alumni and other experts from both countries with stakeholders from science, business and society. It has already achieved some major successes: for example, from the winter semester 2019/2020 the currently around 60 graduates of the degree programme can enrol at Tsinghua University for a further semester after their year abroad in China in order to complete a work placement abroad – a unique opportunity to gain work experience in China early on. In light of the legal situation in China this is far from the norm. RWTH Aachen plays a pioneering role here.
Automotive manufacturer BMW China was on board as a corporate partner to the workshop. Companies of this kind have an urgent interest in graduates who are able to navigate Chinese culture and employ their expertise in both countries.
How German engineers start their careers in China
Lennart Moltrecht is one of them. He has just attended another alumni meeting in Shenyang, a centre of industry and research in north-eastern China. He would like to see the network expanded further so that more people can participate and more company visits are offered. “As a student I would have liked to have the opportunities for exchange that are available here”, he says. In Shenyang he gave a talk about his career to date. Moltrecht completed the RWTH/Tsinghua University double Master’s programme in Aachen and Beijing, even spending the year in China on a scholarship from the host country. During his degree programme he learned Chinese. “In research, the pressure to perform is high in China”, he reports. Students are expected to produce research findings and publications early on, something he had not encountered in Germany. After graduating, Moltrecht joined BMW China and now works in Shanghai developing digital support systems especially for autonomous driving. In light of the traffic situation in China this is more complex than it would be in Germany, he says.
“What I did professionally, starting my career directly in China, is new”, he explains. “Today you can start working in China after graduation, you don’t have to first gain initial experience in Germany and then transfer to China.” Moltrecht is glad that his experiences can help students to prepare for the country, its culture and its academic expectations. And that he can help them access much of the information he still had to find out for himself.
The DAAD connects research and industry
“DCHAN-Engineering is a very good example of how alumni can network advantageously and long-term in research and business”, says Cécile Jeblawei, who provides conceptual and logistical support for the Sino-German Alumni Expert Networks at the German Academic Exchange Service. She sees exceptional benefits because the networks offer both career opportunities for individuals and development prospects for academic cooperations and for businesses. In addition to the expert network for engineering the DAAD supports the work of six other DCHAN expert networks in the fields of entrepreneurship, logistics, philosophy, neurosciences, psychosomatic medicine and urbanisation.
Almost all these expert networks are based on relationships of trust between individual researchers from the two countries that have lasted for years and often decades. These relationships of trust are built on a wide range of shared positive professional and intercultural experiences, and pave the way for new members as well as new innovative cooperations. “They are the best guarantee for long-term collaboration even in difficult times”, says Jeblawei. The alumni have organically developed knowledge of the respective partner country and are also able to better assess the effects of political framework conditions, she adds, noting that many are rightly proud of this fact. “We hope that the range of subjects can be expanded even further in the future.” Jeblawei for example would like to see more room for the subject of climate change. The field of global societal challenges still holds significant potential for development, she says. In June of next year the expert networks will present their findings to the public in Berlin and explore prospects for the future.
Only in German:
DCHAN, die Deutsch-Chinesischen Fachnetzwerke sind eine vom Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung (BMBF) finanzierte Fördermaßnahme zur themen- bzw. fachorientierten Vernetzung deutscher und chinesischer Alumni. Angesprochen sind all diejenigen, die einen signifikanten Studien-, Forschungs- oder Arbeitsaufenthalt in China bzw. Deutschland verbracht haben.
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