Huawei’s research partnerships: international collaboration

Michael Hill-King, Huawei UK
Michael Hill-King, Huawei UK

Collaboration is nothing without the right partner



3 September 2020 | 0

In association with Huawei Technologies

Building Partnerships

International collaboration for Huawei means two things: focusing on strategic opportunities to build strengths that will enable Huawei to remain a global leader; and simultaneously enriching our partners’ capability. We can draw some comparisons with farming. In the early days gathering fruit from the foreign field was only in small quantities so tending the plants or cultivate the soil wasn’t needed. Now, Huawei has many hundreds of cooperation projects in the UK. So, in this field it is no longer right to harvest the fruit without tending to the plants or cultivating the soil. It is the job of the local collaboration team to become familiar with each of the top fields. Only by being familiar with them can we tend to the plants and make sure that any plant isn’t over harvested. Cultivating the soil, including building irrigation systems, is important for long-term stable relationships.

In the UK, universities lie at the heart of publicly funded science and research. They perform three-quarters of publicly funded R&D – a significantly higher proportion than is found in comparator economies. This university-centered system – where to succeed one has to constantly compete for research funding – has helped to create one of the most productive and efficient research bases in the world.




The competitive nature of research funding leads to concentrations of excellence across all disciplines. Because of this, the UK attracts international investment in research and development – around 20% of total R&D investment – much more than, for example, the USA and Germany where the equivalent figure is 4%.

There is evidence to suggest that international investment in R&D carried out in universities is driven by public investment, which in turn, enables researchers and professors to be internationally mobile as they move to countries where research funding is available. Public funding for university research underpins industrial research funding.

Following Brexit the UK needs to make more friends across the world. Many researchers hope that friends in Europe remain friends. Additionally, the UK should be looking to strengthen friendships further afield. This is an opportunity for Huawei as the number one Chinese company actively collaborating with UK universities on research projects.

Collaboration is nothing without the right partner and only by understanding the foreign technology resource ecosystem and availability can we make the best implementation of our innovation strategy.

Talent creation

Huawei employs several thousand staff with PhDs who are recruited from good quality universities around the world. We need deep experts in our company who can not only do fundamental research but also absorb fundamental research into the company from around the world. If we cannot absorb into the company the results from other people’s research then we are limited to the creative capacity of the staff in the company.

There is great opportunity to build constructive relationships with academic research groups related to our business and to nurture the next generation of researchers.

Building trust

Meeting with university leaders has taught us that UK universities place much value on overseas relationships and the contributions that are made by international staff, international students and international research collaborators.

Most universities agree with Huawei that research partnerships – just like research itself – should be based on evidence. The evidence is clear that international collaboration is good for research and good for research outcomes.

Conversations with our partners are import to understand the local news and sentiments, as we listen to their comments and feelings that never get published. Our local people become trusted by the universities because they take time to learn how academics work and how the universities operate.

With strong partners universities there are many good lines of communication in place. Many of our partners remark that there is much to be gained from collaborating with a leading technology company that is headquartered in what will clearly be a strong country for generations to come. This message is reflected by those partners who value technological or scientific collaboration with Huawei and believe strongly in international collaboration.

Building our future

However, we should not, and cannot, take our own performance for granted. We must stay motivated to reflect on ourselves as a company with global reach. The role we play in Huawei as responsible employees and the role that we play collectively in our local ecosystems as a responsible corporate citizen. Right now we’ve investing for the long-term by starting many new joint-labs, especially in the UK to strengthen our partners and create useful technology. Over the past five years our investment in UK technology cooperation has grown strongly. Our technical cooperation strategy is being reshaped to include more strategic relationships with partners who have proven their ability and value to us. We’re beginning to learn how to find rising stars, not just those with long track records. Lesser known universities, or researchers at an earlier point in their careers, have potential for new breakthroughs ideas and innovations.

In the UK, we’ve sponsored research with over 30 universities, some account for a large percentage of the budget because they have more than one hundred faculty related to Huawei’s business, while others have a small but expert team that’s strongly aligned to Huawei’s technical requirements and produce excellent results. With the top partners we build relationships on three levels: with the related professors because that’s directly aligned to our business and technical requirements, with the university leadership to maintain the relationship and environment; and with the administration and university business partnership managers who support efficiency of research collaboration.

The job of the local collaboration team is to learn how Huawei does technical cooperation, to learn from their peers in other companies and to reflect on their own experiences to bring the best approach to every cooperation opportunity.

It is appropriate to conclude with a simple statement. Everything we do should contribute to the company’s business, or contribute to learning, or build talent. Our university research partnerships in the UK support all three objectives.

Michael Hill-King is collaboration director, Huawei UK

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