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Extending Great Wall Commitment

October 28, 2011 | By Microsoft blog editor

Posted by Rob Knies

On Oct. 28, Hsiao-Wuen Hon, managing director of Microsoft Research Asia, signed Phase IV of the Ministry of Education of China-Microsoft Memorandum of Understanding, commonly known as the Great Wall Plan. (Pictured above are Hon, left foreground, shaking hands with Shen Yang, deputy director-general of the Ministry of Education’s Department of International Cooperation and Exchange.)

The agreement extends Microsoft’s commitment to work with academia in China to advance the state of the art in basic research and to foster the next generation of research leaders.

In conjunction with the signing, I had a chance to talk with Lolan Song, Microsoft Research Asia senior director of Microsoft Research Connections, to learn more about the Great Wall Plan, which began in 2002, with previous updates occurring in 2005 and 2008.

“Each time there are updates to make sure that what we do is well-aligned with new technology trends and new social priorities,” Song explained, “and to meet the lab’s interests and university interests. In general, the plan centers on four pillars: research collaboration, talent fostering, academic exchanges, and curriculum development.”

The Great Wall Plan demonstrates Microsoft’s long-term commitment to collaboration with academia in China. But it’s not just a one-way relationship.

“It is mutually beneficial,” Song said. “Microsoft Research gets a definite benefit from the work we do, in terms of better talent. There’s nothing more precious or important than well-trained people to work in the lab. On the other hand, what we do contributes to society.”

Still, she adds, Chinese academia and China’s IT industry get plenty of benefit, as well. A lot of excellent research work has been produced through the collaborative projects, demonstrated by joint publications at top conferences and in prestigious journals. Talent trained through Microsoft Research has become faculty members at top universities and researchers in national research institutes. And there’s more.

“I think the Great Wall Plan is going to demonstrate a long-term impact to China,” Song predicted. “This is Phase IV. It’s not something we only do for one year or two years. This represents over a decade of collaboration. That’s something I’m pretty proud of.

“The impact 10, 20 years from now might seem even better. A lot of good students go to the top schools in the U.S. Ten, fifteen years from now, they probably will return to China, and that contribution is going to be enormous.”

Effects from the Great Wall Plan already are being felt. Chinese students are demonstrating that, given the right environment, they can produce stellar results. The students get exposure to cutting-edge technologies. Associated projects provide impressive social impact, whether it be an immersive, interactive multimedia system focusing on the famous Chinese painting Life Along the Bian River During the Pure Brightness Festival or the digitization of the Dunhuang Manuscripts, a treasure trove for historians interested in ancient China.

“On the other hand,” Song concludes, “our group provides an opportunity for our researchers to demonstrate their capabilities far beyond technical papers published in journals or at conferences, because it directly showcases their research work.”