Director’s Message | Duke Kunshan University

Director’s Message

Xin Li

Associate Dean for Research
Professor, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Duke University
Professor, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Duke Kunshan University
Director, Master of Engineering (MEng) Program in Electrical and Computer Engineering, Duke Kunshan University
Director, Institute of Applied Physical Sciences and Engineering, Duke Kunshan University
Director, Data Science Research Center, Duke Kunshan University
"A global program is key not only for students wishing to return to China, but also for those who remain abroad."
Our Inspiration for Creating the ECE Program

Over the past two decades, the field of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) has experienced explosive growth. Chinese companies have kept pace with this expansion, and a number of them are effectively competing with leading US companies in terms of market capitalization. Conglomerates such as Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent, and China Mobile are each valued at hundreds of billions of USD, making them comparable to Apple, Google, and Microsoft. While this recent growth has bolstered China’s role as a global ECE player, it has also substantially increased local operation costs. In particular, the sharp increase in urban real estate value has driven China’s operation costs to nearly 50% of the US’ costs.

Faced with these added expenses, most Chinese companies, along with US-operated R&D centers based in China, are eschewing stagnation in favor of a transformative revolution. They are seeking opportunities to upgrade from labor-intensive production to high-tech business. This, of course, requires facilitated talent training and technology development.

A recent report published by the Chinese Ministry of Education (MOE) illustrates this problem. The 2015 report states that approximately 400,000 students leave China annually to study abroad, and around 1 in 3 are engineering majors. Furthermore, the report shows that there is not a one-way flood of talent out of China, as around 300,000 students return to China each year. Most of these students have garnered a few years’ experience abroad, often working for international companies such as Google and Microsoft, whose business interests are prominent in China.

Many of these companies offer a global pay scale for senior technical/management positions. This means that salary per annum for a high-level employee is similar between China and the United States. For example, an engineering director at a leading US company makes $247,177 per year in San Jose, California, and $242,699 in Shanghai, China. This pay scale opens up career opportunities in China, allowing a large number of students to return home after a period abroad.

And students do wish to return to China, for reasons beyond pure career development. Familial values remain strong in Chinese culture. As their parents grow older and less self-sufficient, Chinese students find it preferable to work in closer proximity to their parents. Thus, it is extremely valuable for these students to have access to the local culture and social network in China even while abroad. Our global master program offers opportunities to earn an international education while remaining connected to the Chinese industry, such as through summer internships in China.

In this era of globalization, companies are increasingly international, and interactions with people of different countries are a daily affair. China’s recent growth in the field of ECE has made it a frequent business contact. With this in mind, it is clear that possessing study and work experience in China is highly valuable to employers. During this program’s development, we have interviewed a number of US-based international companies about the traits they desire in an employee. Many of them stressed the importance of work experience in China.

Conventional programs in both China and the United States were not designed to address these recent changes. As I wrote earlier, ECE’s growth has largely taken place over the past twenty years, and the traits employers value have transformed. This is why we felt the need to establish a global ECE MEng program. We seek to offer the international education experience that is required for global technical leaders to work across international borders.