China nurtures homegrown talent to promote chip self-reliance
China has been making efforts to identify and train skilled professionals in the field of computer chips to achieve self-reliance in the integrated circuit (IC) industry.
The lack of chip experts is taken as the key bottleneck restricting the development of the IC industry in China. According to the White Paper on Talents in China's Integrated Circuit Industry (2018-2019), there will be a shortfall of 261,000 experts in China's IC industry by 2021.
In late July, the Academic Degrees Committee of the State Council declared integrated circuitry to be a first-division discipline, laying the groundwork for the inauguration of China's first chip university.
Last month, Nanjing Integrated Circuit University was inaugurated in Jiangbei New Area of Nanjing, east China's Jiangsu Province, the first university in the country to focus on the IC industry and aimed at training industry professionals.
The university is expected to be a platform connecting universities and enterprises, promoting the integration of production and education.
Unlike traditional universities, the Nanjing Integrated Circuit University was not set up by the Ministry of Education or the provincial and municipal education authorities, but by the Nanjing Jiangbei New Area Management Committee in line with the needs of local industrial development.
The students will be college students with essential professional knowledge, interdisciplinary students with interest in the IC industry, and junior employees in tech companies, rather than high school graduates selected from college entrance examinations.
They will be instructed by senior engineers and industry experts from home and abroad. The courses will be designed in accordance with the job descriptions required by enterprises and will be taught in a personalized manner targeting the students' weaknesses.
Industry experts and scholars have been optimistic that China's chip talent pool will continue to expand, boosted by the government's focus on IC education and research.
In July, five undergraduates from the University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences produced a 64-bit RISC-V System on a Chip (SoC) called Nutshell. The SoC is now at the final stage of the design process before being sent for manufacturing and is capable of running Linux and UCAS-Core, an operating system the students made themselves.
All five graduates are currently attending graduate school at the Institute of Computing Technology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, participating in more challenging projects to develop a high-performance processor.
In response to the industry talent gap, the University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences launched a program last August to train undergraduates to design processor chips with solid theoretical understanding and practical experience.
"Processor chips are recognized as the crown jewel of the chip industry, with high design complexity and difficulty," said Sun Ninghui, dean of the School of Computer Science and Technology at the university.
He said the university hopes to train more experts in processor chip design by formulating challenging and practical courses, expanding the scale of training, and shortening the cycle from training to working at the front lines of research and industry.
Liu Chi is vice dean of the School of Computer Science and Technology, Beijing Institute of Technology. He said in an interview with CGTN that China is "spending a lot of effort and lots of money supporting semiconductor research... All these will help us stand closer, even leading in the global chip industry."