Leveraging collaboration between the UK and mainland China to tackle the challenge of ageing populations

Ageing populations are far from a niche demographic, and nations around the globe are facing the same challenging opportunity; how to create better societies and markets to foster healthier, longer lives for all.


People in China exercising in a group


By 2050 it is estimated that there will be a staggering 9.7 billion people worldwide, and of these 16% will be over the age of 65. This group of individuals, who are fast becoming the largest segment of our societies are also the most underserved across a multitude of markets, including housing, mobility and transport, beauty and fashion and financial services, to name a few.

In 2000, mainland China accounted for 7% of the population of older people over the age of 65 and has been climbing ever since[1]. In 2005, the population of older people over the age of 65 exceeded 100 million. In 2017, the population of older people increased further to 15831 million people, and the proportion of the population of older people over the age of 65 soared to 11.4%. According to the United Nations (UN) World Population Prospects (2017), by 2040, mainland China will become a super-aged country, and by 2050, the population over 80 will exceed 100 million.

Chinese people, like many other citizens in the world, are reaping the health benefits of dramatically improved education levels and will live longer and healthier lives in future decades, even among those who live in remote areas of the country. “If you look at a cross section right now, it can be very misleading for ageing population in China,” James Smith of Rand Corporation said. “In 20 years, Chinese people who are 50 today are not going to look at all like Chinese people in their 70s right now.”[2] Better education will make a difference in the health of Chinese citizens as they get older, researchers say.

Furthermore, globally, and as an emerging market standout, mainland China is the only true mobile-centric country. Mainland China is becoming one of the leading digital consumer markets, thanks to its investment in infrastructure, development of safe payment solutions, high penetration of mobile devices and its increasing consumer education. As well, historically, the UK represents one of the world’s largest online consumer health buyer and it’s growing at the fastest pace worldwide.

All these factors, combined with many concurrent others, suggested to governments in both the UK and mainland China a need for rapid innovation and strategic partnerships to serve this changing demographic. Unlocking the wealth of knowledge held by older adults is key to addressing age-related challenges and maximising this enormous market opportunity.

Our approach

Both ageing and globalisation have become a reality of our times, and that is why today more than ever it is necessary to go beyond the silos of single-issue and vertical approaches and, while respecting cultural diversity, to trigger policies of comparison, exchange and sharing. Today a systematic global effort is needed to tackle ageing, and this can only be done in a collaborative manner.

That is why we have partnered with the Beijing Hospital led consortium to develop products and services in an ecosystem-to-ecosystem approach, supporting citizens in both countries to age better and live more independently. This collaboration is central to the UK-China Healthy Ageing Flagship Challenge, announced on the 13th of September 2021. These activities will be funded through the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Fund for International Collaboration (FIC), delivered by Innovate UK, part of UKRI.

The project

Over the next two years, NICA will deliver a range of activities in the programme. These will include citizen engagement, bilateral business innovation missions, as well as co-location and accelerator programmes for participating companies.

Citizen engagement is a core component of our Ageing Intelligence® approach, and a fundamental one of our collaborative work in mainland China. Working with local partners and organisations, we will establish a citizen community from which we can harness human experience to glean valuable people-driven insights. This will be achieved through the development of an engagement platform by which the community will be able to partake in opportunities, contributing their ideas, feedback and lived experience to a wide range of topics. As a result, these participants will be helping to shape a new generation of products and service offerings, aimed at improving longevity.

Engaging with this citizen community will help companies selected to be part of NICA’s UK-China accelerator programme, which we will develop to support UK companies interested in entering the Chinese market. This accelerator will give businesses access to expert mentoring, the resources and research capabilities of NICA and our partners, and so help de-risk their entry to the Chinese market.

In the same vein, we will also be supporting bilateral business innovation missions, which will facilitate collaboration between the UK and China. Organised by Innovate UK and delivered by Innovate UK EDGE the programme will consist of a preparation phase, a five-day innovation visit to Beijing, mainland China, a post-visit exploitation workshop, and support of approximately 12 months from an Innovate UK EDGE Innovation and Growth Specialist, helping participating companies maximise the opportunities identified with partners in the territory. NICA will support this by contributing our expert knowledge as well as facilitating events at The Catalyst, our state-of-the-art Innovation Centre to foster dialogue, collaboration, and improved commercialisation.

The vision

So, what are the long-term goals and outcomes we expect to see come from this project?

Well, the simple, over-arching objective is to bring to market innovative products and services that help people live happier, longer lives.

However, to achieve this objective, we aim to accomplish the following outcomes:

  • Demonstrate the benefits of a collaborative approach
  • Demonstrate added economic value through job creation etc
  • Reduced entry to the market
  • Prove the long-term sustainability of a citizen engagement model within mainland China
  • See the successful launch and development of new innovative products and services
  • Create long-term market value
  • Establish a long-term sustainable relationship between the UK & China’s recognised centres of excellence in the commercialisation of products and services which support healthy ageing and longevity

Want to join us?

To find out more about this project, please contact sarah.nolan@newcastle.ac.uk.


[1] On the issue of an ageing population, the United Nations has a unified view: when the proportion of people aged 65 and overtakes up more than 7% of the total population, it is called an ageing society. If it is over 14%, it is called an aged society, and if it is over 21%, it is called a super-aged society. The older people in this chapter refer to those over 60 years of age stipulated by Chinese law.

[2] https://www.rand.org/pubs/external_publications/EP67097.html