Rui Martins, vice-rector for Global Affairs at the University of Macau (UM), tells PLATAFORMA in an interview how the institution has taken on a leading role in communication between universities in Portuguese-speaking countries (PLP) and China. Also with the needs of the labor market in mind, it has been treading its way “towards excellence”, namely in the field of electronics, an area in which it disputes world leadership.
-By 2026, UM expects to grow from the current 12,000 to about 17,000 students. What percentage of students from abroad do you intend to integrate?
Rui Martins – Right now we have 12,610 students. In total, the number of students has gone up 5 percent compared to last year. We foresee a growth to 17,000 students, as you mentioned, where we expect a greater number of post-graduate students at the master’s and doctoral levels. When I took over as Vice-Chancellor of Global Affairs in 2018, we anticipated reaching 500 international students in five years. We grew by 30 percent in 2019 alone, because we created a number of scholarships for international students. In the meantime, the pandemic came. However, some foreigners are now allowed to enter Macau, so the number of international students has increased. UM now has students from more than 50 countries.
-Part of the strategy focuses on Portuguese-speaking students. What is different UM can offer?
R.M. – For both international and PLP students we have a scholarship scheme that allows for tuition fee waivers and some discounts for on-campus accommodation. Complementary to those scholarships we have a program with the Macau Foundation – Scholarships for Students from Portuguese Speaking Countries and Regions and Namibia, which is over 20 years old, where the scholarship students have their tuition fees paid by FM and have a monthly support for living and accommodation costs.
In addition, they have the support of the faculties in terms of internships, with financial support that allows them to make ends meet. I believe we have good incentives for PLP and international students. Besides the Lusophone countries, we are focused on Masters students from the areas surrounding Macau, namely Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines and Thailand.
-Does the In Depth Cooperation Zone in Hengqin bring new opportunities?
R.M. – Even before this plan was announced, we had already established the Zhuhai UM Research Institute at InnoValley Hengqin. This institute allows us to apply for projects supported by Chinese institutions like the National Science Foundation.
We have several initiatives supported by that foundation and in that same area we have a pole of the laboratory that I founded, the Very Large Scale Analog and Mixed Integrated Circuits, a reference laboratory in China (State Key Lab). Some master’s students on internship are in this center, where we also have collaborative projects, commercial projects, and application of our results to the electronics industry.
We have a volume of projects around 15 million renminbi per year, which finance several projects in the Hengqin, Zhuhai and Shenzhen area, because the companies are based there. We have other areas, like Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), health sciences, new materials, etc., that also have projects going on in that area.
-The fact that Macau is part of the Greater Bay Area (GBA) brings more opportunities for cooperation and exchange?
R.M. – At InnoValley Hengqin we have installed UM’s first ‘spin-off’ company, which is DigiFluidic. I hope there will be others in the future. But beyond Hengqin, the idea is to expand our research and collaboration throughout the GBA by creating more poles.
-Macau aims to be a Sino-Lusophone bridge. How has UM contributed to that mission?
R.M. – We have always collaborated with the universities of those countries. In Lusophony these collaborations are done through the Association of Portuguese Speaking Universities (AULP), which gathers all Lusophone and Macau universities. There are about 200 institutions and we have been part of the AULP for more than 25 years. I have participated as vice-president since 2005 and UM presided from 2014 to 2017, and now has the vice-presidency until 2024.
Through AULP we collaborate in several projects, namely a very important one which is mobility – Erasmus Lusophone – which was proposed by UM, but interrupted due to the pandemic. I hope we can recover the program next year. In Lusophony they are already circulating in large numbers.
On the other hand, UM celebrated 40 years last year and established an academic library alliance, ABAMAPLP, which brings together 20 AULP universities; it also established ABAMACHINA, which brings together 20 Chinese universities that offer Portuguese programs.
These 40 universities communicate through the UM, which serves as a bridge between China and the PLP. We created an online portal and have been uploading Portuguese language materials that the UM and the other universities in the PLP make available, and also several books in Chinese that are made available by Chinese universities. There are many universities teaching Portuguese in China, but one of the big problems is the lack of access to materials in Portuguese.
With this platform, they are now beginning to have it. In the scope of these alliances, an international conference was held in April (via Zoom) which we call the 1st International Chinese and Portuguese Language Forum, and we want to hold the 2nd Forum in the last quarter of 2023 in Macau. We hope to attract to UM specialists in the area of teaching Portuguese as a foreign language, but also Chinese, and we should also have sessions in the area of Portuguese-Chinese translation. At the same time, we plan to further develop cooperation in the field of International Relations. We are currently recruiting qualified teachers in this area and, therefore, I believe that this relationship between China and the PLP, through Macau, will intensify in the future.
We also launched an alliance for oceanic research between these countries in early September that should have an international symposium in the last quarter of 2023, as part of the work of our Regional Oceans Center.
– Has it been difficult to strengthen the academic staff in a pandemic context?
R.M. – Yes, it has been difficult. In the past, for example, we would do interviews and the faculty would come here, visit the campus and we had a certain interaction before they joined UM. Now we have to use Zoom. It’s an additional effort, but we’ve been able to do it.
-Relative to English, in what ways are you expanding that network in Asia?
R.M. – In 2019 several English universities were visited. Protocols were signed and programs for training qualified staff were established. A “1+3” masters and doctorate course was created with Imperial College.
We had meetings in 2020 but, in the meantime, the pandemic intensified. We had planned to hold a congress that year, where we were going to invite professors and scientists from Imperial College to meet with some of our researchers. We are currently resuming that and should have a Zoom meeting later this month.
I hope that by next year, at least in the second half, we will be able to bring in those researchers.
-The world is rapidly changing and turning to the digital economy. Is this a change that UM has been following?
R.M.– We have a department of computer and information science, which is one of the most important. There is also a reference laboratory for Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and three years ago the Ministry of Science and Technology approved a laboratory that is directed by Mr. Rector, in the area of Internet of Things and Smart City. We have created several programs in this area, namely at the master’s level. We are diversifying our offer.
– What are the areas in which UM stands out?
R.M. – In several. Besides the State laboratories we have several centers with the Chinese Academy of Sciences and other specialized centers with the Ministry of Education. These are fundamental areas where UM achieves excellence, let’s say. Also, in Law, where we have unique programs that are over 30 years old.
Mostly focused on Macao Law, but also on International and European Union Law. We should soon present a collection of 20 fundamental works for Macao Law by Portuguese professors who collaborated with our faculty and which have been translated into Chinese. Among them Freitas do Amaral, Gomes Canotilho and Figueiredo Dias.
All these great names of Portuguese Law that gave rise to the Macau codes are now translated. It is a unique work. We also stand out in the language area, where the number of students has been increasing. We have recruited a new director for the Portuguese department, Professor João Veloso, who comes from the University of Porto and is also a specialist in linguistics.
I believe that, as he himself mentioned, there will be a great expansion.
In the field of electronics, for example, UM is considered a leading institution, being at the top of the universities and companies that publish papers on the subject. Just a few weeks ago 15 papers and chips from UM were accepted for the ISSCC, the world’s most important electronics conference. This is information that I give first hand. After the results of the 70th edition of the conference that will be held in February 2023 in San Francisco, USA, have been announced, as usual, I can announce that the University of Macau (through our reference laboratory of electronics) is the world leader with the largest number of papers to be presented there. And it is important to point out that our laboratory has 22 faculty members, most of whom are from Macau.
It is perfectly local, but it competes with the best internationally.
Also, the Times Higher Education university ranking was recently released, in which UM maintained its position between 201 and 250. If we consider Chinese, Hong Kong and Macau universities, UM is among the top 20 universities. As for AULP, it shares the top position with the University of São Paulo.