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A rendering of the interior of the planned GIX building.
A rendering of the interior of the planned Global Innovation Exchange building.

Seattle’s University of Washington and China’s Tsinghua University made headlines last week with the announcement of a new tech graduate school, the Global Innovation Exchange, or GIX, to be based in the new Spring District development in Bellevue, Wash. Microsoft committed $40 million to the initiative.

The goal is to use technology and innovation to tackle some of the biggest challenges facing the globe. The institute will start in the fall of 2016, with 30-35 students in a 15-month Master of Science in Technology Innovation program. It’s notable in part because it will mark the first time that a Chinese research institution will establish a U.S. location. GIX is an equal partnership of the two universities.

But who will be able attend? How much will it cost? Who will teach at the school, and who will issue the degrees? How will intellectual property be handled? Where will the long-term funding come from? These were just a few of the unanswered questions after the announcement. So GeekWire posed those questions and more to Vikram Jandhyala, who is deeply involved in the initiative as the UW’s Vice Provost for Innovation.

Here are edited excerpts from Jandhyala’s answers to our questions on a wide range of topics about the institute.

Vikram Jandhyala
Vikram Jandhyala

Who will teach classes? There are going to be three types of faculty at the institute. One is coming out of departments here at the UW. (The initial departments are expected to be Computer Science & Engineering; the Information School; Electrical Engineering; Human Centered Design and Engineering; Business; and Law.) Second, we are looking at this new position called Professor of Practice, where a faculty member is someone who has a foot in industry and also a foot in academia. … And the third is of course international faculty. To start there will also be Tsinghua faculty who will be engaged in building out the curriculum, spending time here and actually being part of the teaching, as well. But we intend to open that up more as we scale the program.

How will GIX co-exist with established UW programs? None of this would happen without the expertise that exists at the UW. It is really important to note that we’re really leveraging things like our Medical School, and the Computer Science and Engineering Department, Business and Law. It’s value add. It’s added on to what’s happening at the university, and a new way for the faculty and the students and the research from those places to make a bigger impact by being global. It really leverages all that’s happening.

What has been the level of collaboration with Tsinghua so far? We’ve had visits from faculty teams at least four times in the last year or so. So it’s been a really fruitful interaction. We’re looking at research; we’re looking at what the curriculum might be; and also looking at what the challenges would be in terms of which ones do we want to address as a global team. So it’s been a really strong partnership with Tsinghua right from the beginning.

How many faculty will there be? The goal is to get to 10 faculty over the next two years.

How will classes be taught? The style of education is so new here that it’s going to be a very different model. It’s not the linear, 10-week lecture model. It’s going to be more interactive. So the way the faculty engage is going to be very different. They may come in for a class; they may spend a week with the students; it might be a weekend hackathon. And there will be staff people coordinating the visits of all the faculty. So it’s a very different model.

How much will tuition cost? That hasn’t been determined yet. We intend it to be the same as what an executive degree costs right now. On that same order. We’ve seen some programs that are $100,000 a year. That’s way beyond what this is going to be. An estimate would be $40,000 to $50,000 a year. That’s an estimate. We also anticipate much of that tuition would be recovered through fellowships and industry support, so the actual cost to a student might be less than that.

Where do you expect the students to come from? Initially we are going to curate a really exciting set of students who want to do this. These are students who might say, “I don’t want to go to grad school; I want to go build a startup or do my own thing outside of the university.” These will be the kind of students we’ll be reaching out to, and we already have a few leads. Both here at the UW and at Tsinghua. It’s going to be almost 1:1 but closer to a 1.5:1 ratio of UW students and Tsinghua students. Then, once we learn over the first year, this is going to open up to more students across Washington state, across the U.S., and across other universities, as well.

One of the goals is to bring in new corporate partners and new university partners. At what stage are you in each of those two areas? We are looking really to cover the continents in some sense — to say, let’s get global teams who can explain and understand things like market conditions and culture, business, history and the way things work in different parts of the world. So our focus is going to be on Europe next and then on Latin and South America. The goal is to get up to four initial partners. (Two more in addition to the UW and Tsinghua University.)

In the industry, we’ve started reaching out to all of the top companies here in town, as well as the Bay Area. There will be different modes of engagement. For instance, endowments and funded fellowships named after companies, but more interestingly for them, there’s also going to be funded projects where the companies put in money for the projects and get some access to the intellectual property through different IP models that we have. And then that will actually fund the students who are working on that project.

Obviously the confirmed partner is Microsoft, but there will be others.

Microsoft is putting in $40 million. What will that be used for? That $40 million is really for two things. It’s to make sure we have the facilities which we need, both in terms of space and staffing the labs and other things that will come, in addition to funding operations. The idea is to have this as a seed fund, but also part of it will be an endowment, which will produce a recurring return.

GIX Exterior Rendering
A rendering of the planned GIX building in Bellevue’s Spring District.

What will be the annual budget for GIX? Way to early to say. The goal is to get to thousands of learners. That’s going to take 10 years to get there. Initially, it’s going to be very modest, in terms of the budget over the first two years. But that’s really the time when we are scaling out and learning. A lot of it will depend on how we actually deploy the technologies, which we’re going to be testing out in the first two years. There will be elements of flipped classroom, online as well as in person. So I can’t give you a budget number right now except to say it’s pretty modest over the first two years and then will scale over the next 10 years.

Will there be any state funding involved? This is non-state funded. There is no state funding going into GIX.

Will the degrees be given by the UW or by Tsinghua or from GIX itself? The first degree, which is a Master’s in Technology Innovation, will be a UW degree. We’re in discussions with Tsinghua right now to do a dual degree — which is that any student who goes in would get two degrees, one given by UW and one given by Tsinghua. We’re not doing a joint degree. A joint degree is where you get one degree bestowed upon you by both universities together. That’s not what we’re doing. These would be dual degrees. But the first degree is going to be UW.

Do students from the U.S. need to know Mandarin to participate? No, but there is a discussion happening of whether it would be interesting for students to get access to Mandarin classes, as well. But there is no requirement. There is a requirement for the Chinese students who come here to know English, including doing prep English courses in China before they come here.

Will the institute itself eventually have direct students of its own, who aren’t enrolled in another university? They will have to come through a university, because GIX is really a part of these other universities. They will have to come through a university, and the degrees will be granted by UW. UW will always have a stake in the degrees coming out of GIX.

What about people might be concerned about intellectual property issues in China, or the whole idea of co-developing technologies that could end up being used by the Chinese government in a way that isn’t in the interest of the American public? The more people you ask, the more answers you’ll get for this. But there are a lot of technologies that make sense to co-develop, because this is happening anyway.

We have three different IP models we’ll be looking at. One is completely open IP from day one. Anything which goes into the project and is released is open — not just to the teams and the students but to the general public, anywhere. So that’s the equivalent of open source.

Another one will be industry IP. … The onus then becomes on the industry to say, OK, this makes sense, this is the kind of problem where we want to see how students attack this problem, plus we might get skill sets imbued in the students which then might make them good employees.

The third one is co-developed IP, where there’s IP coming into the project and then background IP being brought in by the universities or another partner or by students. That is going to be one where we have to be very careful and actually learn how to do that.

GIX will open initially in a temporary location before moving into its new building in Bellevue’s Spring District. Do you know where the temporary location will be? There are two possibilities. One is Microsoft giving us space, which I believe they’d be happy to do, because it’s a small pilot program. The other is that we do have space around campus which we might use. That’s a decision which will be made very soon.

More Background: UW and China’s Tsinghua Univ. creating tech grad school in Seattle area, with $40M from Microsoft

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