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University of Patras and its exciting Silk Road adventure: Setting a solid Sino-Hellenic academic framework

chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2022-06-06 09:13

At the University of Patras (UoP) (www.upatras.gr/en), cutting-edge research meets a mission of excellence in teaching. Its departments are equally committed to championing new ways of thinking and developing solutions to complex global problems across the disciplines. Established in 1964 in Patras, the capital city of the Region of Western Greece, it has gradually built its own scholastic history, now serving all major branches of knowledge in medicine and health sciences, engineering, natural sciences, agriculture, humanities and business. Its activities are supported by 700 faculty members and an equal number of teaching, technical and administrative staff. Education is channeled through fully accredited under- and post-graduate programs, complemented by lifelong learning and training initiatives, explained Prof. Dionissios Mantzavinos, Vice-Rector of Academic & International Affairs. The university's unswerving allegiance to internationalization is the determining factor of its contemporary image. The 700 inter-institutional mobility agreements for study and teaching within and outside the European Union form part of the university's vigorous internationalization policy and support a large, vibrant, cosmopolitan community.

Over the past decade, UoP has developed strong relations with Chinese universities on the basis of mutual trust and respect for the sake of research and teaching cooperation that meets the highest academic standards. It all began when, within the context of European Union's Erasmus Mundus program, the Department of Philosophy of the School of Humanities signed a partnership with Renmin's School of Philosophy (Beijing), said Prof. Pavlos Kontos, Head of the Department. In this context, Chinese students followed graduate courses in UoP and, through UoP, they were accepted in doctoral programs both in Europe and the United States. At the same time, faculty members from both sides visited, respectively, Patras and Beijing to teach post-graduate courses, that led to long-standing and vivid scientific synergies.

The next step, more comprehensive in its nature, concerns a joint academic program agreement between the Greek Department of Xi'an International Studies University and UoP's School of Humanities. Chinese students are expected to complete in Patras their third year of under-graduate studies. One can hardly overestimate the importance of this agreement; Chinese students are expected to stay in Patras one or two semesters long, follow academic courses in Modern Greek jointly with Greek students. They will certainly serve as ambassadors of modern Chinese culture in Greece and, after returning home, as ambassadors of modern Greek culture in China. In addition thereto, Xi'an University has agreed to host biennially a faculty member of UoP as a visiting scholar.

These initiatives, however important, are still small-scale, at least if compared to the following two ones, said Prof. Kontos. The first concerns a two-year long anglophone Master's degree program entitled: "Greek and Chinese Civilizations: A comparative approach." It is no exaggeration to say that this Master program is one of a kind worldwide. It has been created after an agreement between, on one hand, four Greek institutions (namely, UoP, National & Kapodistrian University of Athens, University of Crete, and Aristotle University of Thessaloniki) and, on the other hand, Southwest University (Chongqing). The Master's degree aims at providing graduate students with solid and deep knowledge in the scientific area described in its title, as well as promoting scientific research and further collaborations between the institutions involved. The first year of studies will be taught at Southwest University and will be devoted to the study of Chinese culture, while the second year will be taught at UoP and will be devoted to the Greek culture with an emphasis on ancient Greek philosophy and science. It is worth mentioning that the completion of the program includes an MA dissertation that should address issues in both the Greek and the Chinese civilization and, hence, will be supervised jointly by a Greek and a Chinese faculty member. If nothing else, this shows how much we invest on the genuinely comparative character of the program. This initiative was officially launched on May, 6th 2022 in a ceremonial event involving the ambassadors of China in Athens and Greece in Beijing, officials from the Ministry of Education of the two countries and the Rectors and Vice-Rectors of the two universities.

Moreover, the same four Greek institutions mentioned above just established a "Center of Greek and Chinese Civilization" whose aim is to promote the research of ancient Greek and Chinese civilizations by means of a comparative approach, develop co-operations and materialize synergies with internationally recognized institutions and universities, and, finally, the dissemination of research results both in Greece and China. We are eager to see it flourish and serve as the main channel of communication and co-operation between the Greek and Chinese academia, not to say between the Greek and the Chinese people.

Last but not least, the more ambitious project is the establishment of the so-called "Patras International Engineering Institute", which, in layman's terms, is the creation of UoP campus in China, explained Vice-Rector Mantzavinos. This initiative, which is materialized between UoP and Fujian University of Technology (FJUT), aims at establishing joint under-graduate programs in four engineering disciplines, namely Civil Engineering, Mechanical Design and Manufacturing and Automation, Electrical Engineering and Automation, Information and Computing Science. The joint programs will be offered to Chinese students studying at FJUT with a number of courses provided by UoP instructors. This initiative, which has been embraced warmly by the Ministry of Education of the two countries, as well as the Region of Western Greece and the Province of Fujian, is expected to expand further to include joint post-graduate and doctoral studies.

There is little doubt that going global is a strategic choice for University of Patras and this requires strengthening our key partnerships with our traditional allies throughout Europe and in the United States but, more importantly, exploring new opportunities in China and the far East, said Vice-Rector Mantzavinos. In this respect, this year's 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between China and Greece offers the ideal setting for an inspiring Sino-Hellenic academic framework.

Vice-Rector Mantzavinos (left) and Prof. Kontos (right) during the official launch of the Master's program with Southwest University. [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]
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