Skip to main content Accessibility help

The Mission and Responsibilities of Innovative Universities

  • Lei Zhang (a1), Ji’An Liu (a1) and Jie Zhang (a1)


This article is adapted from a speech delivered at the ‘2016 University Presidents Forum’ on 7 April 2016. Modern human society confronts two great challenges: one from the conflict between nature and humankind, the other from the clash of different civilizations. As one of the most innovative components of society, research universities should shoulder the responsibilities for, and contribute to the sustainable development of, human society and the peaceful development of the world. One possible road to take for research universities is to accelerate building innovative universities, and hand-in-hand develop an innovation network with other innovative components of society. Here, the concept of an innovative university, beyond the perspective of a single innovative component, refers to a university with an innovation capacity as well as an organizer, connector and coordinator of various innovative components, (1) adding value through innovation and creating excellence; (2) acquiring the competitiveness for resources, and optimizing and upgrading itself; and (3) developing the capability of consolidating high quality resources through openness, sharing and collaboration. However, research universities should realize that neither the capacity of acquiring nor consolidating high quality resources can be achieved by an individual university or universities in a single region. That means future innovation should be made through networks. Only those who have access to the key nodes of the network can stand on the central stage of the global innovation system. Thus, an innovative university plays an irreplaceable role in the formation and function of such an innovation network to sustain its position in the global innovation system. These are the mission and responsibilities of the leading research universities.



Hide All
1. Kerr, C. (2001) Commentaries on the Golden Age of the Research University. In The Uses of the University (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press), pp. 141163.
2. Walshok, M.L. (1995) Knowledge without Boundaries: What America’s Research Universities Can Do for the Economy, the Workplace, and the Community. The Jossey-Bass Higher and Adult Education Series (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass).
3. Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2003) Ecosystems and Human Well-being (Vol. 200) (Washington, DC: Island Press).
4. Long-ping, Y. (2014) Development of hybrid rice to ensure food security. Rice Science, 21(1), pp. 12.
5. Shang, X., Wang, X., Zhang, D., Chen, W., Chen, X. and Kong, H. (2012) An improved SWAT-based computational framework for identifying critical source areas for agricultural pollution at the lake basin scale. Ecological Modelling, 226, pp. 110.
6. Pacala, S. and Socolow, R. (2004) Stabilization wedges: Solving the climate problem for the next 50 years with current technologies. Science, 305(5686), pp. 968972.
7. Huntington, S.P. (2000) The Clash of Civilizations? In Culture and Politics (Palgrave Macmillan US), pp. 99118.
8. Bijian, Z. (2005) China’s ‘peaceful rise’ to great-power status. Foreign Affairs, 1824.
9. Swaine, M.D. (2015) Chinese views and commentary on the ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative. China Leadership Monitor, 47, 124.
10. Geiger, R.L. (1986) To Advance Knowledge: The Growth of American Research Universities, 1900–1940 (New York: Oxford University Press).
11. Wu, J. (2011) On Top of Tides (in Chinese) (Beijing: China Publishing House of Electronics Industry).
12. Schwab, K. (2016) The Fourth Industrial Revolution (Geneva: World Economic Forum).
13. Foster, J.G., Rzhetsky, A. and Evans, J.A. (2015) Tradition and innovation in scientists’ research strategies. American Sociological Review, 80(5), pp. 875908.
14. Clark, B. (2015) The character of the entrepreneurial university. International Higher Education, (38).
15. Coaldrake, P. and Stedman, L. (1999) Academic Work in the Twenty-first Century (Canberra: Higher Education Division, Training and Youth Affairs).
16. Sampat, B.N. and Mowery, D.C. (2005) Universities in national innovation systems. In: J. Fagerberg (Eds), The Oxford Handbook of Innovation (Oxford: Oxford University Press).
17. Powell, W.W. and Grodal, S. (2005) Networks of innovators. In: J. Fagerberg, (Eds), The Oxford Handbook of Innovation (Oxford: Oxford University Press).
18. Etzkowitz, H. and Leydesdorff, L. (2000) The dynamics of innovation: from National Systems and ‘Mode 2’ to a Triple Helix of university–industry–government relations. Research Policy, 29(2), pp. 109123.
19.Chinese C9 League members: Peking University, Tsinghua University, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Fudan University, Zhejiang University, Nanjing University, University of Science and Technology of China, Xi’an Jiaotong University, and Harbin Institute of Technology.
20.Hefei Statement on the Ten Characteristics of Contemporary Research Universities Announced By AAU, LERU, GO8 and C9. (accessed on 1 February 2017).


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed