IBM announced today its plan to donate US$100 million worth of big data and analytics software to 100 Chinese universities in the hope of helping to create the "next generation" of data scientists.
According to IBM, the effort aims to reach up to 40,000 students per year to gain expertise in big data and analytics — a skill that the company says is increasingly in demand in China.
The plan follows a memorandum of understanding that IBM signed with the Chinese Ministry of Education in the first quarter of this year, with a focus on addressing the big data and analytics "skills opportunity" in the country.
"IBM is privileged to extend its collaboration with the Ministry of Education and universities in China," said D.C. Chien, chairman and CEO of IBM's 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 [big data and analytics] technologies to tackle complex societal issues, from health care to transportation and public services."
Under the new initiative, IBM will set up big data and analytics technology centres, and provide technical training to professors and faculty, in areas ranging from information management, data mining, social media analytics, and risk management.
Big Blue has already been in collaboration with seven universities, including the Beijing Institute of Technology, Fudan University, Guizhou University, and Huazhong University of Science and Technology, which are among the pilot schools that will rollout new programs in their education system in the coming academic year.
The company plans to bring 40 new universities on board to this program by the end of this year. In fact, according to IBM, the application guidelines will be issued to all qualified academic institutions later this month, with the program rolled out to all 100 universities in mid-2015.
The agreement comes at a time when the United States' use of big data and analytics for surveillance purposes has the Chinese government on edge — following the publication of documents leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden last year.
Over the past few months, Beijing has reportedly pulled Microsoft's Windows 8 from all new government agency computers, and called for private industry to replace US-made IT hardware and software with domestic alternatives. Reports last month suggested that the government was even urging the country's banks to remove high-end IBM servers from their operations.
Despite this, IBM has brokered not only its university big data donation deal — dubbed IBM U-100 — with the Chinese authorities; it has also struck an agreement with kaikeba.com, a prominent subsidiary brand of Chinese education solution provider, Uniquedu Corporation.
The deal with kaikeba.com will see IBM set up an "IBM zone of big data and analytics", and according to IBM, the agreement will deliver online courses to students in order to help prepare the next-generation workforce with the skills and expertise needed to embrace big data as the "next frontier for innovation for the coming decades".
"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, president of China's largest research, consulting, and IT outsourcing service company, CCID Consulting. "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."
According to CCID, the big data technology and services market in China will continue to grow from US$2.3 billion in 2014 to US$8.7 billion in 2016.