Logistics Education in China

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Wu Liu, pinyin for the modern word “Logistics” is starting to gain importance in China, mainly due to the relocation of production facilities from western-countries to the Far East. Many foreign forwarding companies in China are looking to recruit local staff that have an academic degree in logistics.

When assessing the current state of logistics education at the undergraduate level (i.e. Bachelor) at universities in China, several observations can be made.

First of all, the number of schools that are offering a major in logistics and the number of logistics programs have been greatly increasing since the first logistics department in China was set up in 1994 by Beijing Wuzi University. Today there are 284 universities offering logistics management and 58 universities providing classes in logistics engineering.
Secondly, more students are beginning to study logistics. There are six universities in Beijing offering logistics programs. The largest logistics faculty is at Beijing Normal University with 1,990 students.

Also, the curriculum content has been improving. The majority of logistics departments or institutes have also launched logistics labs. In these logistics labs, Students get to know the technology, such as: forklifts, high-rack stackers, high-bay racks, pick by light or pick by voice? said Prof. Dr. Armin F. Schwolgin from Baden-Wuerttemberg Cooperative State University Loerrach.

Now Beijing Wuzi University has the biggest logistics laboratory in China that cost about 2.4 million Euros (US$3.2 million). The logistics laboratory at Beijing Transportation University is only half the size. Other than logistics labs that have been applying advanced technologies, more and more universities have begun collaborating with foreign universities to broaden students?horizons – like Beijing Wuzi University and Baden-Wuerttemberg Cooperative State University‘s (DHBW) collaboration on their bachelor program.

Each year more than 10 Chinese students go to Loerrach for a full year. The proficiency in logistics nkowledge and technology has increased significantly, especially at the postgraduate and PHD level.“The advanced international logistics technologies have been applied in some projects for frontier studies in postgraduate studies or PHD studies? ” suggested Mrs. Deng, a lecturer from the Logistics department at Beijing Normal University. However, logistics education in China still fails to compete at the same level as other foreign universities. The frontier research and theoretic studies are quite restricted by the country’s reality, especially for undergraduate studies. “It is not advanced as those in many foreign countries like America,Japan, etc, because theoretical studies should always be lead by real-world practice,” commented Deng.

Logistics appeared as an academic discipline in China just 20 years ago, and until 2001 Beijing Wuzi University remained the only university that offered a major in logistics. The next two departments for logistics engineering were founded in 2002 at Shanghai Maritime University and Wuhan University of Technology. Many logistics institutes or departments were transformed from former departments of transportation, delivery, communication, etc. Currently there is hardly any university or logistics institute in China that can penetrate into every aspect of logistics education. The programs are quite focused on one, or several aspects of logistics. For example, if the institute was originally a transportation department, then it will focus more on delivery of logistics.

Tsinghua University’s strength lies in industrial technology, so in its logistics program, it focuses more on equipments/facilities or logistics engineering,?explained Deng.
For logistics education out of Beijing, according to Mrs. Yang, a professor assistant from Wuzi University, the majority of teachers don’t really come from a logistics background.”Most of them were studying transportation or engineering before and they haven’t got enough practice in the logistics industry”,Mrs.Yang told us. Based on the analysis and experience in foreign countries, there is still room to improve higher logistics education in China.

First of all, the public awareness of logistics as an academic discipline has to be increased. Also, it is crucial to continue to push logistics knowhow and to strengthen the teaching quality of all staff, not only their proficiency, but also the practical capability. “It would be great if educators could go abroad to visit foreign logistics institutes. They could learn more, bring back advanced theories and have more oppotunities to develop exchange programs.?Furthermore, it is necessary for universities to implement their experimental classes.

In addition, Chinese logistics professors believe that a standardized logistics curriculum would be extremely helpful. Chinese professors, as a group, should work on a standard curriculum and syllabus, as it is seen by most them as a necessity.It is also becoming more popular for universities to coordinate with logistics companies. Take Wuzi University as an example, it has been coordinating with almost all of the logistics companies in the south-east coastal area of China, such as PGL, and this has enabled both teachers and students to get more involved in actual logistics practices.

Last but not least, “Teachers believe that the relationship between logistics engineering and logistics management should be clarified. In addition, we believe that the management aspect (finance, controlling, risk management, compliance management. etc.) should also be emphasized,”added by Prof. Dr.Armin F. Schwolgin. As “Wuliu” gains importance in China with local professionals and talent becoming one of top priorities for the region, Chinese educators begin to realize the significance of being more specialized in logistics on a global scale.

The ability to be more tech-savvy and more international will help to catch up with the quick development of the industry. Logistics labs have been launched featuring new and advanced technologies. Schools are also grasping at opportunities to coordinate with foreign schools and logistics companies, in order to broaden students’ horizons and provide more chances for practice for both teachers and students. For example, Beijing Wuzi University has been collaborating with many logistics companies, like PGL, in the Southeast coastal region of China.

ChinaSupplyChain.com received comments from several Chinese professors in logistics institutes regarding the development of education in China. All of the professors share in the belief that, although there are many improvements in school facilities, curriculum as well as awareness of logistics education, the level in China still remains in the early stages. Professor Deng, from Beijing Normal University, believes the frontier research and theoretical studies in China’s logistics education is equivalent to that of the development of logistics in China.

Therefore it cannot compare to the levels of advanced nations like America or Japan. “Theoretical studies should always lead the practice”, Deng continued, “Yet in China, theoretical studies are quite restricted to the reality, especially for undergraduate studies.” Currently, China does not have any school that can benchmark its logistics program at close to a 5 star level. Logistics really began to develop in the early 90s. Since then, logistics education started to be pushed by some universities and colleges in China. Some logistics departments were actually transformed from other faculties, like the communications or transportation department. If the original curriculum consisted of studying transportation, the focus would be shifted more towards delivery.

“A School like Tsinghua University, which is good at industrial technology, focuses its logistics education on equipment and facilities, or logistics engineering”, suggested Deng, “but it抯 hard to say which school can be considered the best.”

It seems to be even harder to determine a top school if you involve postgraduate studies and PHDs, since “they are much more focused on certain aspects of logistics, instead of studying logistics as a whole”, explained Yang, an assistant professor at Beijing Wuzi University. “Some of the research and  projects at the PHD or postgraduate level has reached the standard of international logistics technology.” 

To really take the overall logistics education in China to a world-class level, much remains to be implemented. Many Chinese professors believe that the most important aspect will be to improve the quality and standards of teachers. “In many schools out of Beijing, teachers in logistics departments don’t come from a logistics background. They originally studied transportation, engineering, etc. More qualified teachers are needed,” commented Professor Yang. In addition, it is also necessary for teachers “to improve their expertise in the theoretical and practical studies,” comments Professor Deng. “They will benefit from visits to logistics schools abroad to learn more and in turn will be able to introduce advanced technology and projects.” 

The road to improving China’s logistics education programs has yet to come to a close, nor will it be easy to accomplish. With the support of the logistics industry and passionate educators, the evolution of logistics curriculums is sure to take place in the near future.

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