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IBM and China Make Large-Scale Commitment to Big Data Education

If there's any place where big data ought to rule, that's China, a country where everything is done on a large scale. To help educate students on how to work with the data generated by a population of 1.37 billion people, IBM has announced an ambitious big data program to integrate its software, research, curriculum and other education-related resources into scores of China's institutions by the end of this year.

This isn't the first time IBM has taken its wares and subject matter expertise to China. In 1984 the company donated hardware and software to schools. In 1995 it began relationships with the first of 60 schools to build up university-level IT-related curriculum. Under a "Reinventing Education" initiative IBM helped train 10,000 primary school teachers in China on the use of IT in the classroom.

IBM's latest agreement with China's Ministry of Education, dubbed "IBM U-100," is intended to create a generation of data scientists among young people, reaching 40,000 students per year. The program has three aspects: setting up "big data and analytics" technology centers in 100 universities, implementing academic programs at 30 institutions, and creating centers of excellence at five schools. At the same time, the company will be working with a Chinese firm to develop massive open online courses (MOOCs) to extend the big data instruction.

The value of big data-related technology and services stands at about $2.3 billion currently in China, according to China-based CCID Consulting. The consulting firm estimated it would nearly double annually to $8.7 billion in 2016. As is the case in the United States, the country faces a dearth of skilled people to do the data analytics or other work generated by big data initiatives.

"Big data is big business, but its rapid growth has outpaced colleges' and universities' ability to develop and implement new curriculums," said Li Shu Chong, CCID president. "IBM's extensive initiative is poised to help develop new talent in China that will be needed to realize the full potential of big data."

Under IBM U-100 IBM will deliver technical training to professors and faculty in multiple areas: information management, data mining, social media analytics and risk management. The company will also offer training activities, case studies, access to software and bring in IBM staff as guest lecturers.

Seven universities are running pilots, including Beijing Institute of Technology, Fudan University and Huazhong University of Science and Technology. All will be formally introducing the new programs in the coming school year. By the end of the year IBM intends to add an additional 40 schools, growing that to 100 universities by mid-2015.

On top of that, IBM will also help develop new degree programs focused on bolstering data scientist and data officer expertise and applying analytics skills in finance, risk management and marketing. Those degrees are expected to be earned by 1,500 students per year.

Five institutions will work with IBM to set up "open collaboratories" on their campuses, bringing businesses and academic people together in solving specific business challenges. IBM will provide consulting and software for those programs. One school that's paving the way in this project is the Chinese University of Hong Kong, which launched a lab that trains students in how to conduct data mining research for the retail industry. Seventy students are now working within retail and distribution operations in Hong Kong on data mining projects.

IBM also said in a statement that it would be working with kaikeba.com, a Chinese education portal to launch an "IBM Zone of Big Data and Analytics." Here the company will help develop instructional content for MOOCs  related to big data.

"Together we will help the industry address the pressing [big data and analytics] talent crunch by bringing not only high quality but also affordable BD&A education instantly to an unlimited number of students and industry professionals, who otherwise were not able to gain the skills because of high costs for enrollment, insufficient qualification, time constraints or immobility," said Kaikeba Founder Alec Fang.

"IBM is privileged to extend its collaboration with the Ministry of Education and universities in China," added D.C. Chien, chairman and chief executive officer of IBM Greater China Group. "Together we will be able to accelerate the nurturing of skills in big data and analytics and help prepare future business leaders to apply BD&A technologies to tackle complex societal issues, from health care to transportation and public services."

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