Chinese scientists make breakthrough in replacing WiFi with LiFi

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Chinese scientists have made a breakthrough in creating full-color emissive carbon dots (F-CDs), which brings them one step closer to developing a faster wireless communication channel that could be available in just six years.

Light Fidelity, known as LiFi, uses visible light from LED bulbs to transfer data much faster than radio wave-based WiFi.

While most current research uses rare earth materials to provide the light for LiFi to transmit data, a team of Chinese scientists have created an alternative, F-CDs, a fluorescent carbon nanomaterial that proves to be safer and faster.

“Many researchers around the world are still working on this. We were the first to successfully create it using cost-effective raw materials such as urea with simple processing,” said Qu Songnan, an associate researcher at Changchun Institute of Optics, Fine Mechanics and Physics, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, which leads the research.

Qu said rare earth has a long lifespan which reduces the speed of LiFi transmission. However, F-CDs enjoy the advantage of faster data transmission speeds.

In previous studies, carbon dots were limited to the emission of lights such as blue and green. The new nanomaterial that Qu’s team has developed can emit all light visible to the human eye, which is a breakthrough in the field of fluorescent carbon nanomaterial.

Qu said this is significant for the development of LiFi, which he expects to enter the market in just six years.

A 2015 test by a Chinese government ministry showed that LiFi can reach speeds of 50 gigabytes per second, at which a movie download can be completed in just 0.3 seconds.

Source: Dawn News

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E-commerce to bike shares: How Chinese firms went from copycat to copy that

 

 

 

 

 

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Silicon Valley take note: in everything from mobile payment systems to news apps, businesses across Southeast Asia look to a new horizon for inspiration – China

Ian Chua took his first step to establishing a multimillion dollar business by watching a YouTube video.

Back in 2012, Chua was browsing the web when he came across a television interview featuring the Chinese entrepreneur Chen Ou. Chen, the founder of Beijing-based Jumei, talked about how he had built one of China’s biggest online cosmetics store by leveraging shoppers’ collective bargaining power.

Chua, a young Malaysian student fresh out of college, listened carefully and an idea emerged.

“I was thinking to myself: ‘I want to do this in Malaysia,’” Chua recalls.

Fast forward four years and Chua’s company, Johor Bahru-based Hermo, is one of the most successful beauty e-commerce websites in Malaysia.

The company’s sales revenues reached US$10 million last year, up from US$100,000 in 2012. And Chua, still just 27, has landed a place on Forbes Asia’s “30 under 30” list – a celebration of the region’s brightest young entrepreneurs.

“I was very lucky, I bumped into the idea,” Chua says, referring to Chen’s YouTube video. “For me, it was an inspiring moment.”

But Chua’s good fortune is not only about luck – it’s a reflection of a growing trend in which businesses across Southeast Asia look to China for inspiration for everything from e-commerce to mobile payment systems and news apps.

Once derided as a copycat of Western giants, Chinese companies have grown in stature to the point that in many areas they are now seen as the pinnacle of business innovation.

Even Silicon Valley veterans are taking note.

Connie Chan, a partner at US venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz – whose investments include Airbnb and Facebook, told a conference this year that her fund’s portfolio company LimeBike, based in California, had taken inspiration from a dockless bike-sharing scheme from China.

LimeBike’s smartphone-activated bicycles, which riders can drop off anywhere they want rather than having to find a docking station, were first rolled out by Beijing-based Ofo and Beijing Mobike Technology, Chan said.

And the nearer you get to the Middle Kingdom, the more Chinese business models are being replicated.

Kay Mok Ku, a partner at Asia-focused investment firm Gobi Partners, said one of four Southeast Asia start-ups his firm had invested in had been modelled on Chinese companies.

And the influence of Chinese businesses now stretches far beyond the world of start-ups.

Last month, Thailand’s central bank introduced a standardised QR code that enables the country’s smartphone users to pay for their purchases simply by scanning their devices – taking a page from the playbook of Chinese tech giants such as Alibaba and Tencent whose scan-and-pay mobile apps supported transactions worth nearly US$3 trillion in 2016 alone. The Singapore government has announced a similar plan.

Ku said the rush towards Chinese business models reminded him of how American firms had emerged as a global standard when their massive success on US soil attracted companies across the world to copy their ideas.

“The success of Chinese businesses shows that you can become an international player just by leveraging the Chinese market,” Ku said.

SIMILARITY WINS

For entrepreneurs in Southeast Asia, there are many benefits to learning from China. Eric Cheng, the founder of Malaysia’s online second-hand car trading platform Carsome, knows this well, as he has turned his little known start-up into a multinational business using a Chinese model.

After studying several car trading websites across Europe, Asia and America in 2015, Cheng chose Chezhibao, a Nanjing-based Chinese start-up, as his role model.

 

“There is a similarity between China and Southeast Asia in terms of user behaviour, making it easier for us to replicate the business model of Chinese companies than Western ones,” Cheng explained. For instance, Carsome has learned from its Chinese counterpart how to build trust among owners and dealers by introducing a transparent virtual auction process; such a practice does not exist in the West where dealers do not attract the same level of distrust, Cheng said.

Riding on the proven model of the Chinese company, Carsome has grown quickly in sales volume and market expansion. Its monthly sales climbed from 50 units in 2015 to the current 600, and is on course to bring in about US$40 million worth of business this year, Cheng said. Within two years, the Malaysian start-up has expanded to Indonesia, Thailand, and Singapore.

But the similarity between Asian markets isn’t the only reason why Chinese business models have become the latest hot export to Southeast Asia. China’s progress in innovation has played a major role.

“The era in which Chinese companies were nothing but copycats of Western giants has long gone; now they are leading the world in many ways,” Cheng said.

FROM COPY TO COPIED

Mobile payments are one case in point. Statistics from Beijing-based consulting firm iResearch show Chinese mobile payments accounted for US$5.5 trillion worth of transactions last year – about 49 times as much as mobile payments in the US, according to Forrester Research.

That gap has convinced Danny Lim, the founder of Jakarta-based Pundi-Pundi, to follow the path of Chinese digital payment providers. In a region where smartphone ownership is soaring and many of Indonesia’s 260 million population remain unbanked, Lim has made it clear that he wants his nine-month-old start-up to be the next Alipay of Southeast Asia.

“Pundi-Pundi, which means ‘wallet’ in Bahasa, aims to boost the development of a cashless environment and access to micro loans in a region that still lacks easy access to cash, on a model pioneered by Alipay in China 10 years ago,” the company said recently.

Alipay is a digital payment method introduced by Alibaba, a Chinese conglomerate that owns the South China Morning Post.

Already, Lim has launched an app that enables users to make payments with their smartphones, rather than a debit card. The app also enables shoppers to buy first, pay later – a function similar to Alipay’s customer financing service. The Indonesian start-up has also set up its research and development centre in Shenzhen, a Chinese city near the border of Hong Kong and known as the Silicon Valley of China.

Other start-ups in Southeast Asia have looked at China as a reference for opportunities, too.

Industry observers say that list includes Orami, Thailand’s leading e-commerce business, which started out as a clone of China’s online baby product platform Mia; Offpeak, a Malaysian version of the Chinese group buying website Meituan; and BaBe, an Indonesian news app that borrowed the business idea from China’s Toutiao and has been downloaded more than 10 million times.

 

INSPIRATION ONLY

Some fear replicating Chinese business models risks disrupting the birth of innovative local practices. “Many countries in Southeast Asia have their own user behaviours, languages and cultures. If purely copying, companies may miss out some special requirements that you cannot see in China,” said Edith Yeung, a partner at global venture capital fund 500 Startups.

Besides that, “just copying ideas does not guarantee success,” said Hian Goh, founding partner of NSI Ventures in Singapore. “You need to understand the consumer you are serving and their idiosyncrasies,” Goh said.

In other words, localisation is the key to success, regardless of where the business ideas come from. Perhaps that’s why startups in Southeast Asia, including those who have thanked their Chinese counterparts for inspiration, sometimes bristle at the suggestion they have copied the Chinese companies.

“What we got from Jumei was inspiration; 90 per cent of our success relies on execution,” said Chua, of Malaysia’s e-commerce site Hermo. In fact, Chua said his company has been switching away from Jumei’s business model since he restructured the service based on users’ feedback.

“Focusing on what customers want is my biggest takeaway from Jumei,” Chua said.

Yet still, Chua monitors Jumei’s business activities closely. “China’s internet industry is three to five years more advanced than Southeast Asia. We are keeping an eye on it and learning the future of the industry,” he said.

Source: South Morning China Post

SE Asian tech: what’s the draw for China’s internet giants?

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China’s internet giants are ramping up investment in India and Southeast Asia, highlighting the potential for growth in the regions’ vibrant tech scenes and positioning them as the next battlegrounds in their bid for global dominance.

Nearly US$5 billion in funding flooded into Southeast Asia’s tech start-ups in the first seven months of this year – already exceeding the US$3.1 billion throughout the whole of last year, according to New York-based research firm CB Insights. India, meanwhile, recorded US$5.2 billion of investments in its tech start-ups as of June, eclipsing the US$3.39 billion for the whole of 2016.

The increase in Southeast Asia is in large part due to funding from Chinese tech behemoths like Alibaba, JD.com and Didi Chuxing, who have caught Western competitors napping in the rush to invest.

“Alibaba, Tencent, and JD are looking to expand and grow aggressively in [Southeast Asia], and the simplest, fastest way to do so is through investment into, and acquisition of, synergistic technology companies with wide distribution, extensive on-the-ground infrastructure, and/or a large user base,” said Justin Hall, principal at Southeast Asia-focused venture capital firm Golden Gate Ventures.

In Southeast Asia, China’s dominant e-commerce platform Alibaba – the owner of the South China Morning Post – has committed US$2 billion for an 83 per cent stake in the region’s e-commerce power Lazada Group and led a US$1.1 billion investment into the Indonesian online marketplace Tokopedia. Tencent, the Chinese internet and gaming company, is an early backer of the Singapore-based online gaming and mobile commerce firm Sea, while Beijing-based ride-sharing company Didi Chuxing has led an investment of up to US$2 billion in Singapore-based Grab, Southeast Asia’s answer to Uber. Meanwhile, JD.com this week announced that it is forming a US$500 million joint venture in e-commerce and financial technology with Thailand’s major retail firm Central Group.

China’s tech giants focus on emerging Asia markets because they share similar demographics to China, where young urbanites with rising disposable incomes account for the majority of online buyers. Also, like Chinese, most other Asians typically first encounter the internet on relatively cheap mobile devices and are more likely to shop in online marketplaces than their Western counterparts, who favour the websites of individual businesses. Such similarities make it easier for tech companies to replicate their business models in Asia, rather than in the United States or Europe.

BATTLEGROUND INDIA

The most prized market in Asia for tech companies is India, due to its large population and strong levels of consumption. India is estimated to have 470 million internet users, while New Delhi projects the country’s digital economy could reach the trillion-dollar mark within the next five years – up from US$450 billion now.

In this key battleground, China’s tech titans face tough competition from both American and local tech firms.

Since 2012, US-based investors have been involved in more than 800 funding deals in the tech sector – more than investors from any other country, according to CB Insights. At the same time, American companies like Amazon, Apple and Uber have boosted investment in their own operations in the country.

Chinese companies account for fewer deals and tend to have taken a lower key approach – supporting locally based firms, rather than buying them outright. For instance, Alibaba has poured money into Paytm, India’s biggest digital payment services provider, and local e-commerce firm Snapdeal, while Tencent has backed Snapdeal’s main rival, Flipkart.

“India is more competitive than Southeast Asia,” said Albert Shyy, principal at Singapore-based venture capital firm Burda Principal Investments. “Chinese players have been showing more interest in Southeast Asia lately since they feel the market has grown large enough to be interesting for them and there are still a lot of [market] opportunities.”

NEXT BIG THING

After India, Southeast Asia offers the next big source of growth, thanks to its largely untapped online markets and rising middle class. More than half the region’s 650 million people are connected to the internet, largely through mobile devices.

The number of digital consumers in Southeast Asia increased by 50 per cent last year to 200 million, boosting the region’s internet economy to more than US$50 billion in 2016, according to consulting firm Bain & Co. Meanwhile, Alphabet’s Google and Singapore’s state investment fund Temasek estimate that combined digital economies in the region will grow to US$200 billion by 2025.

In Southeast Asia, Chinese investors have caught their Western competitors napping – Amazon only entered the region this year, via Singapore.

Backing local firms is the modus operandi of the Chinese in this region, too.

“Western investors are taking their time in Southeast Asia, and instead of acquiring or investing in local companies like [the Chinese] they just go at it by themselves,” said Aldi Adrian Hartanto, head of investment at Mandiri Capital, the investment arm of Indonesia’s largest financial institution Bank Mandiri.

Singapore is the hotspot for tech-related deals in the region. Between 2012 and July 2017, there were more than 700 deals, worth a total of more than US$7.3 billion, in the city state. That put it far ahead of Indonesia, in second place, which had 285 deals worth a combined US$3.4 billion.

However, the sheer size of the Indonesian market means it is the next big prize for investors. Data tracker eMarketer projects there will be 36.2 million digital buyers in the Indonesian economy – Southeast Asia’s largest – this year, boosting its retail e-commerce sales to US$8.21 billion.

Meanwhile, household consumption contributed 58 per cent of Indonesia’s GDP last year, putting it roughly on par with India’s 56 per cent and ahead of China’s 38 per cent. American private equity giant KKR & Co. has projected the country’s consumption could jump seven percentage points over the next decade.

With Western investors yet to fully realise the potential in Southeast Asia’s budding tech scene, Chinese tech companies have a chance to gain influence.

Ant Financial has been making waves across the region by forging partnerships with payment firms. Alibaba’s financial affiliate made a foray this year into the Philippines through a tie-up with Globe Telecom-backed fintech company Mynt, and into Malaysia, where it set up a joint venture with a CIMB (Commerce International Merchant Bankers) subsidiary that clears the way for it to launch an e-wallet service in the country.

Ant Financial also acquired Lazada’s payments platform HelloPay, which was later rebranded as Alipay Singapore, Alipay Malaysia, Alipay Indonesia, and Alipay Philippines. In Thailand, it poured investment into Ascend Money, part of the country’s conglomerate Charoen Pokphand, while in Indonesia it teamed up with Emtek, the operator of BlackBerry Messenger, to weave Alipay services into the messaging platform.

WeChat operator Tencent’s most notable move in Southeast Asia regards Singapore-based online gaming and e-commerce company Sea – the region’s most valuable tech start-up before Grab came along. Tencent has also injected US$19 million into Bangkok-based digital entertainment provider Ookbee, and continues to promote its own music streaming platform Joox.

Meanwhile, JD.com has put about US$100 million in Indonesia’s ride-hailing start-up Go-Jek, which also counts Tencent as an investor. The Beijing-based company also injected an undisclosed amount into Indonesian travel booking platform Traveloka.

“JD.com is set on making sure it doesn’t get left behind in the market through its Go-Jek investment,” Rahul Chadha, analyst at eMarketer, said in a recent research note. “In return, Go-Jek is likely to gain from JD.com’s expertise in managing the nuts and bolts of the e-commerce business, including shipping logistics and inventory management, should it decide to expand its efforts in that sector.”

‘A DIFFERENT BEAST’

Thailand is the next most attractive market for investors to expand into, industry watchers say, citing its higher spending power compared to Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam. The Thai government’s efforts to develop the tech sector and an innovation-based economy by providing start-up incubators and accelerators has also set the country apart. Malaysia is also a bright spot, having produced some of the region’s best-known tech start-ups, including Grab.

While there are many opportunities in the region, experts caution foreign investors against taking a ‘one size fits all’ mentality, urging them to approach each country as an individual market with its own quirks and challenges. A business model that works in tiny Singapore might not work in a country like Indonesia, which has 17,000 islands and presents unique challenges for infrastructure, for example.

This too, gives Chinese firms an advantage over Western companies still trying to grow influence in the region. “Southeast Asia is a very different beast from other markets, and having a solid understanding of what constitutes a strong founder or company can be tricky,” Hall of Golden Gate Ventures said.

“If investors aren’t knowledgeable or their networks are insufficient, it’s far more likely they’ll invest in or acquire weak companies.”

Source: South Morning China Post

 

The next energy revolution is here

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Over the period of one decade, the capitalized cost of generating solar energy in 2015 has decreased to as low as one sixth the cost in 2005, and I believe it will not take long for solar energy generation to be economically cheaper than thermal power generation worldwide.

Every year at the World Economic Forum, energy consumption and climate change are always hot topics.

Looking back at the history of human civilisation, for a long time, firewood was the primary source of energy; however, back then, energy ultilization was low and as such air pollution emissions were also low.

The invention of the steam engine in the 18th century marked the beginning of the industrial revolution, which led to the mining and consumption of coal on a large scale. In 1920, coal accounted for 62% of primary energy consumption, indicating that the world had entered the Coal Age.

In 1965, petroleum replaced coal as the most consumed energy, which led the world into the “petroleum age”. In 1979, petroleum contributed 54% of the world energy consumption, marking the second energy revolution from coal to petroleum. Up until now, fossil fuels have continued to dominate as our energy resource.

With each new age, the use and efficiency of energy have increased significantly — as have, unfortunately, levels of severe environmental pollution. Our future energy system must therefore be clean and low-carbon to ensure the sustainable development of human civilisation.

We are now embarking on a new era of energy revolution. The energy system of the future should have the following three features:

Low carbon energy production. Fossil fuels have to be burned to release energy, which caused emissions and environmental pollution. The existing intensive industrial usage of fossil fuels has significantly harmed the environment. Meanwhile, for most economically under-developed countries around the world, the cost of clean energy is too high to be affordable.

Solar power, however, is one of the best solutions. Not only is solar energy production clean, it may also soon become a much more affordable source of energy, as technology development and innovation continues to reduce the cost of solar power generation.

As mentioned, the cost of solar energy generation in 2015 has decreased to as low as one sixth the cost in 2005. In the near future, solar power will be less expensive than coal power. Renewable clean energy replacing fossil fuels is the trend of the ongoing energy revolution

Energy independence and connectivity. As a typical outcome of the industrial age, the existing electrical energy system has been made of large-scale hydropower plants and coal power plants in resource-rich regions, supplying their output to consumption centres through a grid system. Such development not only requires enormous investment, it also causes serious environmental problems.

The energy system of the future, dominated by renewables, will be built on the basis of regions. Each region will have its own energy supply system. Thus, forming a new system with a regional power network which would also be interconnected with networks in other regions, so as to balance the system and ensure a consistent energy supply. An energy system like this would be far more optimised than our existing one.

Energy sharing. When solar energy is adopted by hundreds of factories and thousands of houses, the power supply system will be totally changed. Every school, every factory and every family will become a micro clean energy power station. We will be both energy consumers as well as energy producers. The direction of new energy revolution is to build an energy-sharing system, based on a large database and a smart-energy connection platform. Such a vision has already been realized in Germany, where many households are equipped with solar panels on their rooftops. If one family produces more electricity more than they use, they share the extra power with other families via regional grid. Establishing an energy-sharing system can further decrease the cost of adopting clean energy. It can be a new model of shared energy and a shared economy.

Promoting the new model of energy consumption in less-developed regions. While developed countries are changing their energy structure from fossil fuels to renewables, many less-developed regions are still short of any kind of energy supply models. Those countries could skip the traditional power system, and directly adopt new clean energy.

At present, 1.4 billion people worldwide have no access to electricity, of which 500 million are in Asia. In future, we can build a clean energy supply system featured by solar power, with distributed and micro power networks, to make electricity accessible to everyone on earth by 2030. This plan can totally meet the requirement of access to energy under the UN’s Agenda 21. This kind of energy revolution will bring universal value and significance.

Throughout the history of humanity, industrial revolutions have also been energy revolutions. Every change of a dominant energy source has been a revolution. Each time, a change had resulted in industrial and social developments. The next energy revolution is now at accelerating in pace, propelled by technology development and innovation. Consequently, the connection to grid of PV (solar) energy at a fair price will become a reality faster than we expect.

Source: Medium (Originally published at www.weforum.org.)

 

China petrol car ban, boosts electric vehicles

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BEIJING: China, the world’s biggest auto market, is considering a ban on fossil fuel cars in a major boost to the production of electric vehicles as it seeks to ease pollution.

The move would follow similar plans announced by France and Britain to outlaw the sale of petrol and diesel cars and vans from 2040 to clamp down on harmful emissions. Xin Guobin, vice minister of industry and information technology, told a forum in the northern city of Tianjin at the weekend that his ministry has started “relevant research” and is working on a timetable for China.

“These measures will promote profound changes in the environment and give momentum to China’s auto industry development,” Xin said in remarks broadcast by CCTV state television. “Enterprises should strive to improve the level of energy saving for traditional cars, and vigorously develop new energy vehicles according to assessment requirements,” he said.

China produced and sold more than 28 million vehicles last year, according to the International Organization of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers. The sale of new energy vehicles topped 500,000 in the world’s second largest economy in 2016, over 50 percent more than the previous year, according to national industry figures.

The government introduced in June a draft regulation to compel automakers to produce more electrically-powered vehicles by 2020 through a complex quota system. As the measure looms, foreign auto makers have announced plans to boost the production of electric cars in China.

Volvo will introduce its first 100-percent electric car in China in 2019, while Ford will market its first hybrid vehicle in early 2018 and envisions 70 percent of all Ford cars available in China will have electric options by 2025. Xin said the policy would be implemented “in the near future”, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

Source: The Express Tribune

Chemical industry part of CPEC to boost self reliancy

A chemical factory. PHOTO: REUTERS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A chemical factory. PHOTO: REUTERS

 

LAHORE: The Pakistan Chemical Manufacturers Association (PCMA) has called for forming joint ventures with China to make the local chemical sector a self-reliant industry.

The suggestion was made by PCMA General Secretary Iqbal Kidwai in a meeting with Pak-China Joint Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCJCCI) President Wang Zihai on Wednesday.

Kidwai proposed inviting Chinese investors to consider joint ventures in chemical manufacturing and also suggested that the sector be made part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

He said the chemical industry formed the fabric of the modern world, converting basic raw material into more than 70,000 different products, not only for the industry, but also for all the consumer goods.

He highlighted the vast potential of Pakistan in chemical manufacturing and processing. PCMA’s vision was to transform the chemical industry of Pakistan from an import-oriented to an export-oriented Industry, he added.

“Due to absence of a naphtha petro-chemical cracker complex, the downstream industry is dependent on imports. Pakistan’s chemical imports constitute around 17% of the total import bill,” said Kidwai, adding Pakistan was spending over $5-6 billion every year on the import of chemicals with an average increase of 5-8% in coming years.

“Despite the enormous potential, the sector could not be tapped to its maximum due to some major constraints that include dependence on expensive imports, lack of industrial infrastructure and technology, lack of financial resources, energy shortages and weak trade policies.”

The general secretary was of the view that these constraints could be addressed if Chinese chemical manufacturers joined hands with Pakistani counterparts in terms of providing technology, knowledge and investment.

He also urged the government to facilitate local investors by providing soft loans and facilitating foreign investors in obtaining land and machinery.

Moreover, he pointed that Pakistani and Chinese experts should collaborate to bring more innovation in the chemical manufacturing process, we should invest in research and development aimed at chemical manufacturing through a more cost effective and eco-friendly processes, added Kidwai.

Speaking on the occasion, Zihai agreed that joint projects between Pakistan and China could explore the potential for the larger interest of both nations.

He said the chemical industry was the third largest in China, which accounted for nearly 13% of the nation’s GDP, but despite massive chemical manufacturing, there was increased demand in China.

“Almost all economic sectors in China rely on chemical goods, particularly in the areas of construction and car manufacturing,” said the PCJCCI president.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 10th, 2017.   Source: Dawn News

Ailing Universities, Higher Education World Rankings

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FOLLOWING the recent announcement of the Quacquarelli Symonds World Universities Rankings 2018, the higher education sector in Pakistan has come under much public scrutiny because only one of the country’s 180-plus universities was counted among the world’s top 500 universities — in 431st place on the list.

 

This ritual of public interest in affairs relating to the country’s universities is repeated thrice a year; the two other occasions being when the Times Higher Education World University Rankings and the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) are announced. Invariably, few Pakistani universities find a place on these ranking systems — that too, at the bottom of the list. The fact that one of our universities manages to rank in 431st position ends up in national headlines.

 

I share here the reservations expressed by a growing body of international academics about the very nature of ranking systems. As each university is distinct and operates in a particular setting with its own outlook, it cannot be compared with another entity operating under different conditions and with a different direction. Nevertheless, these rankings offer us an opportunity to examine the ailments inflicting our higher education sector and try to identify some remedies.

 

Universities all over the world perform two basic functions: teaching and research. Every prominent international ranking system attributes high value to a university’s research activity, contributing approximately 85 per cent value to its overall score. In the case of ARWU, even the number of Nobel Prize winners working in a university is considered during the evaluation process.

 

From this perspective, if we were to look at our universities, we would find that with the passage of time most of them have been converted into teaching centres with very little focus being given to research. One may ask how many inventions have come out of our universities, or how many patents have been registered nationally or internationally by our professors. Even if some research is carried out and published, it is mostly academic in nature and not meaningful enough to bring about positive change in the lives of people.

 

Another curse that inflicts our universities is that of the affiliated colleges, which weighs down the value and reputation of their degrees. Most of the country’s colleges are affiliated with one or another university in their respective region vis-à-vis their undergraduate programmes. In addition to the poor quality of their faculty, their libraries, laboratories and infrastructural facilities are in dismal condition. But, at the end of the day, the students from these affiliated colleges get the same degrees as their counterparts studying at the main campuses, who enjoy comparatively better facilities and teachers. This brings the value and reputation of a university down.

 

Also contributing to the decline of our higher education sector is the poor quality of entrants. In essence, the higher education is tertiary in nature and rests on foundations laid by our primary and secondary education sectors. Recently, a study found that the language and mathematics skills of our high school graduates were equal to that of second graders in the developed world. When students with such poor basic education standards enter the halls of our universities, what can be expected of them?

 

Here, also, the basic weakness lies with our national planners and their priorities. For instance, China and South Korea initially focused on improving their school education, particularly from the 1950s to the 1980s, and then shifted their focus to their tertiary education. The result of this policy has been that their universities are now fiercely competing with American and European universities for top slots in international ranking systems.

 

Another factor, per­­haps the most important, is governance of our universities. The subcontinent’s first three universities were established in Calcutta, Bombay and Madras in 1858, almost 160 years ago. About a quarter of a century later, the University of Punjab, Pakistan’s oldest university, was established in Lahore in 1882. Even in those days, these universities were granted greater autonomy through their more responsible and accountable statutory bodies.

 

While the trend in the developed world during the 20th century was that of granting more and more autonomy to their seats of higher learning, here it has just been the opposite, particularly in the 21st century! Today, political interference, over-regulation by state agencies and the appointments to key positions of persons devoid of vision and management skills have subjected our universities to a host of challenges.

 

It is high time that Pakistan took into account the factors that ail the nation’s higher education sector and devised a coherent policy to rectify matters. Seasonal lamentations, every time a new ranking is announced, will not do our higher education any good.

 

Published in Dawn, July 5th, 2017

eCommerce: Alibaba Group to enter Pakistan

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Pakistan on Tuesday signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Alibaba Group Holdings Limited to promote Pakistan’s worldwide exports by Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) through e-commerce.

Alibaba Group’s Executive Chairman, Jack Ma and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif witnessed the signing ceremony.

Speaking at the headquarters of the e-commerce giant, the prime minister appreciated the success and performance of the Alibaba group.

“I am glad my meeting with Jack Ma at the World Economic Forum in January has come to fruition in the shape of the MoU we have just signed,” the premier said.

“My appreciation of Ma’s dynamism and performance of [the Alibaba] group comes not only from its success as a e-commerce giant but more so from the focus of the group on job creation and livelihood generation,” he added.

“Indeed, the Alibaba group is a business with strong humanistic dimension. These are the values that are the pivot of the policies my government has pursued with determination and commitment since taking office in 2013.”

“E-commerce is a powerful tool to stimulate economic activity, effort, innovation and entrepreneurship across all sectors of the economy,” the prime minister added.

“When Jack Ma shared with me his interest in establishing an e-platform in Pakistan, i instructed my office to facilitate Alibaba’s initiative in every manner and in the shortest possilbe time frame,” he the prime minister said, adding that the MoU had been signed within four months of when the initiative was first conceived.

The agreement between Alibaba and Trade Development Authority of Pakistan (TDAP) was signed by Commerce Minister Khurram Dastgir and Michael Evans, President of Alibaba Group, and Douglas Feagin, Senior Vice President of Global Business of Ant Financial, on behalf of Alibaba, during the visit of Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif to the headquarters of the company.

Under the terms of the MoU, Alibaba, Ant Financial, and TDAP agreed to foster growth of worldwide exports of products by small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in Pakistan through e-commerce.

Online and offline training programs for the SMEs would also be conducted by Alibaba in a bid to assist SMEs with on-boarding on to Alibaba’s platforms and optimizing exports through e-commerce.

TDAP will help identify suitable SMEs to participate in the training programs while Alibaba will be responsible for providing industry analysis to TDAP to assist them in their selection process.

In addition, Alibaba, Ant Financial and TDAP have agreed to promote the growth of financial services in Pakistan in areas such as mobile and online payment services.

The parties have also agreed to adopt cloud computing services to support the online and mobile e-commerce businesses of SMEs in Pakistan.

The Alibaba group has in recent years been aggressively courting foreign brands to set up Tmall stores to sell to China’s vast and growing middle class by offering to smoothen out Chinese sales, payment and shipping processes.

Ma, a Chinese citizen, appears frequently with leaders from the highest echelons of the Communist Party, and both sides have voiced their support and admiration for each other.

Alibaba has deep ties with the Chinese government, working closely on some of the country’s core technology development goals including cloud infrastructure and big data.

Ma is a true rags-to-riches story. He grew up poor in communist China, failed his university-entrance exam twice, and was rejected from dozens of jobs, including one at KFC, before finding success with his third internet company, Alibaba.

Alibaba not interested in acquisitions, more interested in partnerships

China’s Alibaba is not interested in acquisitions this year as it is in partnerships, Alibaba Executive Chairman Jack Ma said on Thursday.

“I am not interested in acquisitions. I am more interested in partnerships,” Ma said at a news conference on Alibaba’s Olympic sponsorship deal, when he asked about his company’s plans for the year. “We want to look for partners and empower them to be powerful,” he said.

Sorce: Dawn News

 

GM launch electric cars China 2020

gm cars

General Motors Co. plans to launch 10 electric and gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles in China by 2020, an executive said Friday, as automakers speed up the roll-out of alternative vehicles under pressure from Beijing to promote the industry.

GM will start production of a pure-electric model in China within two years, Matt Tsien, president of GM China, told a news conference during the Shanghai auto show.

He said GM expects annual sales of 150,000 electric and hybrid cars in China by 2020 and possibly in excess of 500,000 by 2025.

Ford Motor Co., Volkswagen AG, Nissan Motor Co. and other automakers also have announced aggressive plans to make and sell electric vehicles in China, the biggest auto market by number of units sold.

On Tuesday, GM unveiled a hybrid version of the Chevrolet Volt to be manufactured in China and sold under its Buick brand.

China’s communist government has the world’s most ambitious electric car goals, hoping both to clean up smog-choked cities and to take a lead in an emerging industry. Regulators are pressing foreign brands to help develop the industry.

Regulators jolted the industry by proposing a requirement that electrics account for at least 8 percent of each brand’s production by next year, rising to 10 percent in 2019 and 12 percent in 2020. Automakers say they may be unable to meet those targets and regulators have suggested they might be reduced or postponed.

Beijing also is due to enforce what auto executives say are the world’s most stringent emissions standards. They say that is likely to require all manufacturers to include electrics in their lineup to meet targets for average fleet emissions.

“In the next several years, out to 2020, we expect to launch at least 10 new energy vehicles into the marketplace,” said Tsien, using the government’s term for electric and hybrid vehicles. “We have a pipeline that is going to materialize, that’s going to put us in a very good position from a fuel economy requirement perspective.” All the vehicles will be manufactured in China, he said.

GM, which competes with VW for the status of China’s top-selling automaker, reported 2016 sales rose 7.1 percent to a record 3.9 million vehicles.

Foreign automakers had been reluctant to sell electric cars in China because regulators required them to transfer valuable intellectual property to local partners or face import duties of 25 percent even if the vehicles were produced at a Chinese factory.

Beijing has eased those requirements in an effort to attract foreign participants, though automakers say the final ground rules for electric vehicle production have yet to be announced.

“We have concerns relative to amount of IP that has to be shared. We have a fairly clear understanding of what the rules of engagement are,” said Tsien.

“For vehicles where General Motors owns the IP, we have had longstanding technology licensing agreements with our partner. Those work effectively.” The government is expanding China’s network of charging stations to reduce “range anxiety,” or buyers’ fear of running out of power.

The Cabinet’s planning agency announced a goal in February of having 100,000 public charging stations and 800,000 private stations operating by the end of this year.

Electric cars also are exempt from sales tax and license plate quotas Beijing, Shanghai and other cities use to curb congestion and smog. Still, sales of electric and gasoline-electric hybrids fell 4.4 percent from a year earlier in the first quarter to 55,929 vehicles while SUV purchases rose 21 percent to 2.4 million.

Tsien said manufacturers will need to develop vehicles that appeal to customers.

“The industry has to work on very hard to educate customers with regard to the merits,” he said.

Source Dawn News

Robots may build your next home

robotics.jpg

The future of US homebuilding depends on more people like Cyndicy Yarborough, a 26-year-old former Wal-Mart clerk with no background in construction.

At Blueprint Robotics in Baltimore, she works in a factory that builds houses like cars, on an assembly line, using robots that fire thousands of nails into studs each day and never miss. Yarborough operates a machine that lifts floors and walls and packs them onto a flatbed truck, the final step before delivery to a development site where they’ll be pieced together.

“I like being a part of something new, on the cutting edge,” said Yarborough, a single mother who took the job at Blueprint last May.


For all the concern over automation removing jobs from the workforce, companies like Blueprint are actually helping to ease a labour shortage


For all the concern over automation removing jobs from the workforce, companies like Blueprint are actually helping to ease a labour shortage that has crimped construction of residences and commercial properties across the country.

The plants enable developers to fill the gap by having houses and apartment buildings manufactured off-site, for less money and in a fraction of the time. Even Marriott International Inc., the world’s biggest hotel operator, is increasingly turning to modular construction for some of its properties.

To meet growing demand, high-tech plants are opening, and older factories that were shuttered after the last decade’s real estate crash — many in areas such as rural Pennsylvania, where labour costs are cheap — are being revived. Builders hire the factories to manufacture homes in sections, which are transported on trucks, then laid down on foundations by cranes, like giant Legos. Sometimes the modules are fully framed rooms, complete with tile showers and gourmet kitchens.

“This has to be the wave of the future — I don’t know how we solve the labour shortage otherwise,” said John Burns, an Irvine, California-based homebuilding consultant. “What drives modular construction is the ability to build the house more cost-effectively.”

US homebuilders say the labour crunch is their biggest challenge, and that it’s pushing costs up as much as 5.2pc on average, according to National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo surveys last year. President Donald Trump’s proposals to crack down on undocumented workers may further squeeze the industry, one heavily dependent on immigrant labour.

The idea of transporting homes in prefabricated sections has roots in the early 1900s, when homesteaders could buy kits from a Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalogue for assembly on their newly acquired plots of land. In the 1980s and 1990s, it became increasingly popular to build lower-cost homes in factories, according to Gary Fleisher, who runs a blog for the industry called Modularhomecoach.com.

Today’s plants are capable of producing bigger buildings with more elaborate designs. The Blueprint factory in Baltimore is one of the first in the US to use robots, Fleisher said.

Taller multifamily buildings, dorms and hotels are increasingly being manufactured indoors. And so are mansions that sell for millions.

“Some builders won’t even advertise they work with modular companies like us,” said Myles Biggs, general manager of Ritz-Craft Corp.’s Pennsylvania construction facility. “You could be driving past a modular home and not even know it, because it looks just like one next door.”

Ritz-Craft can deliver a single-family house in six to eight weeks, on average. Having an indoor facility means weather delays are rarely a factor. Each worker is given a narrow concentration, like tiling floors or sanding drywall, which increases production speed. People without any background in construction can become skilled labourers in two weeks, according to Biggs.

The idea is catching on with Marriottt, which aims to have agreements with North American developers this year to produce about 50 of its Select branded hotels in factories, said Karim Khalifa, senior vice president of global design strategies. In December, Marriott opened a Fairfield Inn in Folsom, California, with 97 rooms — all built at a Guerdon Enterprises plant in Boise, Idaho.

Last month, a collection of Marriott hotel rooms was getting wood-framed walls and ceilings at a Champion Homes factory in Liverpool, Pennsylvania. Even the beds and televisions will be in place before the boxes are shipped through stretches of highway and stacked in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, next month.

“What we like is how well modular is built,” Khalifa said. “These things have all been designed to be transported. They have the integrity of a shipping container.”

Apartment developers, too, are increasingly going with modular construction, especially in fast-growing cities such as Denver and Nashville, Tennessee, said Rich Rozycki, head of Champion Homes’ commercial division, which has seen its pipeline grow 50pc since 2014. The company also has had discussions with national homebuilders looking for a solution to their labour problems, he said.

Labour costs are more favourable for factory construction, according to David Reed, vice president of Champion’s modular division. Workers make about $15 to $20 an hour in rural Pennsylvania. That compares with $50 to $100 an hour in the markets the manufacturers serve, like New York’s Hudson Valley, and the Washington, D.C., area, Reed said.

Builder Kris Megna works with Champion to create houses as large as 10,000 square feet (930 square meters) in the pricey suburbs of Boston. Megna, 31, who founded Dreamline Modular Homes in 2010, said almost any custom design is possible, even though the modules can’t be much bigger than 60 feet by 16 feet (18 meters by 5 meters). Walls between sections can be knocked down for open-concept kitchens, and cut-outs can create vaulted ceilings, he said.

“The house is 60pc complete when it arrives, and that means 60pc of the headaches of building are gone,” Megna said.

— Bloomberg/The Washington Post Service

Published in Dawn, Business & Finance weekly, April 24th, 2017