Weiping Wu

Professor and Chair of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning at Tufts University
"We have to look into more sustainable ways of financing for cities, which is what I’m working on now, particularly on China, looking at not just physical resources but also financial market resources that could help some cities to be more sustainable in terms of their financing."
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Weiping Wu is a professor of urban and environmental policy and planning at Tufts University. A respected urban specialist and China scholar, she has served as a consultant to the World Bank, a fellow in the Public Intellectuals Program of the National Committee on United States-China Relations, and a research fellow at the Brookings Institution. She is the (co)author and co-editor of four books, including Pioneering Economic Reform in China's Special Economic Zones, The Dynamics of Urban Growth in Three Chinese Cities, Local Dynamics in a Globalizing World, and Facets of Globalization: International and Local Dimensions of Development. At present, she is completing a book titled The Chinese City, to be published by Routledge. For details on her publications, please go to her personal webpage.

One area of her research addresses urban innovation and competitiveness in the context of the global economy, through interactions of the clustering of knowledge-based industries, urban policy, and urban outcomes. Recently, she studies how the higher education sector plays an increasing role in innovation and technological development in emerging economies, how universities are building linkages with and becoming sources of knowledge for firms, and how higher education institutions achieve so by reorienting priorities in research and technology transfer. Geographically, most of her work focuses on understanding China’s urbanization process, the intended and unintended consequences, and the impact on urban dwellers and migrants.

Weiping Wu holds a Ph.D. in Urban Planning and Policy Development from Rutgers University, and a Master’s degree in Urban Planning and a bachelor’s degree in Architecture from Tsinghua University (China). She is an editor of the Journal of Planning Education and Research, and a visiting Zijiang Chair Professor at East China Normal University in Shanghai. The National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Education, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, and World Bank have provided funding support for her research. 

Research Highlight – Higher Education for Innovation

The university has become a crucial institution in the modern economy. More than a training site for the next generation of leaders and educated workforce, academic research is central not only to expanding the frontier of codified knowledge through publications, patents, and prototypes, it also contributes to local and national economies through research commercialization, problem solving, and providing public space for knowledge exchange and application. Higher education, however, typically plays marginal roles in innovation in emerging economies. Governments there, as in China, have invested considerable energy and imagination in promoting local universities as critical agents of technological progress. Since the onset of economic reforms in 1979, China’s strategies for enhancing indigenous research and innovation capabilities have in part involved the promotion of university-based research and commercialization, particularly by elite institutions to which the central government provides the most funding.

Despite the heightened attention, investment and involvement by the state, university-industry linkages in China remain at a nascent stage with limited effects on technological progress. The key role of universities so far centers not so much on cutting-edge innovation but on adaptation and redevelopment of existing foreign technology/products. But even such a redevelopment role has been limited to a relatively small number of institutions and companies. While this being said, there is evidence of institutional evolution that university-industry linkages are moving from more hierarchical and rigid forms established under the command economy into more flexible and market-based arrangements. The dominant form has evolved from a heavy reliance on university-affiliated companies to technology contracts and even patent licensing. In sum, there remain enormous difficulties of commercializing academic research results even in Beijing and Shanghai—China’s most advanced metropolis technologically. This suggests that fostering university-industry linkages in emerging economies would necessarily be a gradual process. The problem is not in China alone. There are persistent and even growing structural mismatches between academia and industry, and institutional barriers in technology transfer.

Related publications:

Weiping Wu and Yu Zhou. “The Third Mission Stalled? Universities in China’s Technological Progress.” The Journal of Technology Transfer (2011, forthcoming).

Weiping Wu. “Higher Education Innovation in China.” East Asia and Pacific Region Human Development Department, the World Bank, 2010.

Weiping Wu. “Managing and Incentivizing Research Commercialization in Chinese Universities.” The Journal of Technology Transfer 35, 2 (April 2010): 203-224.

Weiping Wu. “Cultivating Research Universities and Industrial Linkages: The Case of Shanghai, China.” World Development 35, 6 (June 2007): 1075-1093.

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