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Higher Education

Making the grade

China’s emphasis on higher education pays off as its universities rise in world rankings to compete with global elites

P1 education

October 9-15, 2017
By KARL WILSON
in Sydney
karlwilson@chinadailyapac.com

For the first time, Peking and Tsinghua universities, two of the Chinese mainland’s most prestigious centers for higher education, have entered the top 30 in the respected Times Higher Education World University Rankings.

“The rise of China in this year’s table is remarkable and demonstrates the way the global higher education landscape is changing,” said Phil Baty, editorial director for global rankings at Times Higher Education.

He added that other East Asian nations will need to work hard to stay competitive as China “soars to join the global elite”.

“Our rankings show China’s higher education improvement is real and growing.”

Founded in 2004, the annual analysis now features a total of 1,000 institutions — compared to just 200 when it first published.

China’s leading universities are “truly now part of the global elite and overtaking prestigious universities in the United States, United Kingdom and Europe”, according to Baty.

A source at Peking University said it is moving toward becoming “a great university” and a combination of factors have contributed to its climb in the global rankings.

The strong showing in the rankings is testament to the emphasis China has placed on higher education.

The rise of higher education in China has been driven by a large investment in science and technology subjects as the country transitions from a manufacturing economy to one built on technology, research and innovation.

“Chinese universities are doing outstanding work in science, technology, mathematics, life sciences,” Baty said. “What China needs to do now is strengthen its arts and humanities and social sciences programs.”

Arts and humanities subjects are very important to create the balance and to provide the creativity needed to push research to the next level, he said. “So that’s the challenge. Another challenge is perhaps to be even more international.”

The strong showing in the rankings is testament to the emphasis China has placed on higher education. Just a few years ago, the Chinese mainland had two universities in the top 200. Last year it had four, and this year seven.

Francisco Marmolejo, lead tertiary education specialist with the World Bank, said that while China’s rise in the rankings is impressive, it is “important to remember China has the largest higher education system in the world”.

“China’s global share of enrollment as well as the number of higher education institutions are of such magnitude that it shouldn’t be a surprise to have some of its institutions become globally prestigious.”

Marmolejo said that China has significantly invested in expanding and improving its higher education system in recent years.

“A key part of the Chinese strategy has been the government’s conscious decision to support a select number of universities to develop their capacity and infrastructure with the concrete goal of climbing into the global rankings,” he said.

“Another factor that should be taken into consideration is that many universities all over the world — and China is no exception — have become more sophisticated in response to the indicators of excellence being defined by rankers and, consequently, have established concrete mechanisms to constantly monitor their performance.”

Pedestrians outside the gates of Tsinghua University in Beijing on July 12. Credit: Guo Junfeng / ImagineChina

Higher education has been a priority in China for more than two decades, with various projects initiated in the 1990s to create elite centers of learning.

In 1995, Project 211 was launched to raise the research standards of China’s top universities. Institutions that reach a certain standard were rewarded with significantly increased funds. Today there are 116 higher education institutions that are part of this project.

Project 985 was established three years later and uses a similar strategy, although just 39 universities have received sponsorship as a result of this. In 2011, it was announced that no new universities would be admitted to this exclusive group.

The final and most select group is the C9 League, a grouping of the country’s top nine elite universities who between them receive 10 percent of China’s national research budget.

Peking University is a member of the C9 League and is generally one of the highest ranked institutions in China. Founded in 1898, it was the first modern national university in China.

Located in Haidian district in northwest Beijing, it is home to some of the capital’s most prominent and recognized gardens and traditional architecture.

The university has established joint degree programs with a number of foreign universities, including Cornell and Yale in the United States; the London School of Economics and Political Science; the Paris School of International Affairs; Waseda University; and the University of Tokyo.

Tsinghua University, established in 1911, is also located in Haidian district. Like Peking University, it retains much of its traditional architecture, juxtaposed with many buildings built in the Western style reflecting the historical American influence on the campus.

Tsinghua University is a comprehensive research university. Its 20 schools and 54 departments cover disciplines in art, economics, education, engineering, history, management, medicine, law, literature, philosophy and sciences.

Many successful people in politics, academia and industry have graduated from Tsinghua University, including two Nobel Prize winners, Tsung-Dao Lee and Chen-Ning Yang. They won the 1957 prize in physics for their work on parity laws.

The government has invested heavily in higher education and has given universities more autonomy to accelerate growth.

The country’s 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20) outlined a renewed commitment to the quality of Chinese higher education, with a focus on making graduates employable and encouraging entrepreneurial skills.

John Mortensen, China regional director of education services at the professional services, real estate and investment management firm Jones Lang LaSalle, said the Chinese government has acknowledged that it needs to allow greater freedom in the sector.

“In order to make the universities more competitive and innovative, the government is now reviewing some of the traditional constraints and giving more autonomy over aspects such as leadership and how funding is applied in research,” he said in a recent paper.

“This new openness will bring Chinese universities more in step with their global competitors and partners.”

Since 2003, a number of international big-name educational institutions have established campuses in China as restrictions become more relaxed.

Mortensen said China’s growing prominence in the field of higher education only reinforces what economists and business leaders have been saying. “Given China’s importance as a major trading hub, it is naturally advantageous for foreign students to study in the country,” he said.

Once considered an exporter of international students, China is reversing the trend, as it hopes to increase its share of international student numbers, which have expanded at 7 percent every year over the last decade, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

This is creating a stir in more traditional receiving destinations like New Zealand and Australia.

“Previously, China was trying to understand the world in which it was just beginning to do business,” said Mortensen.

“Now it has become imperative for the rest of the world to understand China, which is the second-biggest recipient of direct investment worldwide, after the US. More countries are sending students over to China to study the Chinese ways of doing business.”

The strong growth in international enrollment within the country is not restricted to Chinese universities alone. Since 2003, a number of international big-name educational institutions have established campuses in China as restrictions become more relaxed.

“Joint ventures with international universities such as the University of Nottingham, the first foreign university to open a branch campus here, have been a huge success,” Mortensen said, referring to the UK institution’s overseas campus in Ningbo, East China’s Zhejiang province, which opened in 2006.

Following that success, provincial governments were quick to embrace foreign institutions, competing to attract prestigious universities and international schools to move to their cities.

“Subsequently, we’ve seen North American universities attracted to China, including Duke University, New York University and The Juilliard School,” Mortensen said.

Other well-known names are Harvard Business School in Shanghai and The University of Chicago Booth School of Business and University of Pennsylvania Wharton in Beijing.

These partnerships have raised the accessibility of top international universities to Chinese students and also attracted international students to complete part of their degree in China.

Targeting ‘creative thought’ Moving away from a manufacturing-led economy, China sees innovation as driver of sustainable growth

October 9-15, 2017
By KARL WILSON
in Sydney
karlwilson@chinadailyapac.com

Education will be the key as China transitions itself from a manufacturing economy to one based on science, technology and innovation, and research and development (R&D).

The old system of education is slowly changing, said Jeongmin Seong, a senior fellow at consultancy McKinsey & Company in Shanghai.

Speaking at the 2017 Sydney China Business Forum on Sept 25, he said the focus of education in China today is shifting from “memory knowledge”, where students memorize facts, to one more focused on “creative thought”.

He told the forum, titled Capitalizing on China’s Digital Revolution, that the pace of transition is “happening so fast that the old system will take some time to change”.

But, does this matter to the tech giants sprouting up all over China?

“No, not really,” Seong said. “You find companies will take the best and then put them through their own in-house education programs.”

The government has already set in motion major reforms to the education system with the release of the National Plan for Medium and Long-term Education Reform and Development (2010-20) seven years ago.

“Education is the cornerstone of national rejuvenation and social progress, and a fundamental way to improve citizens’ quality and promote their all-round development, bearing the hope of millions of families for a better life,” the policy document said.

Education funding is growing annually, with 3.9 trillion yuan ($586 billion) last year, an increase of 7.57 percent from 2015, according to preliminary statistics released by the Ministry of Education in May.

Since the beginning of the 21st century, free compulsory education has become the norm in urban and rural areas, while vocational education has made headway fast.

Spending on preschool education in 2016 reached 280.2 billion yuan, up 15.48 percent from the previous year.

Investment in compulsory education totaled 1.76 trillion yuan, an increase of 9.76 percent year-on-year. Children in China are entitled to nine years of compulsory education.

Expenditure for high schools was 615.5 billion yuan, an increase of 6.75 percent from 2015, while the figure for higher education exceeded 1 trillion yuan, up 6.22 percent from the previous year, according to Xinhua News Agency.

Since the beginning of the 21st century, free compulsory education has become the norm in urban and rural areas, while vocational education has made headway fast.

According to the 2010-20 national plan, “remarkable progress” has been made in achieving education equity.

“Education development has vastly enhanced the quality of the entire nation, and stimulated innovation in science, technology and cultural prosperity, thereby making irreplaceable and significant contributions to China’s economic growth, social progress, and the betterment of people’s livelihood,” the document said.

It noted that today’s world is undergoing great development, profound changes and major adjustments.

“Both world multi-polarization and economic globalization are witnessing in-depth development. Science and technology are making rapid strides, and competition for talent or professionals is intensifying with each passing day.

“China is currently at a key stage for reform and development, as all-round progress is being made in economic, political, cultural and social development as well as in promoting ecological civilization.”

As industrialization, IT, urbanization, marketing and internationalization develop, China has transitioned from a populous nation to one with a larger scale of human resource depth, the document said.

“China is seeing increasing pressure from its vast population, limited natural resources, the environment, and the transformation of its economic growth pattern.

“The future development and great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation are predicated on talent or professionals, and on education.”

Peking University graduates attend their convocation ceremony in Beijing on July 4. Credit: Lin Hui / ImagineChina

For an economy to successfully transition from manufacturing, an educated population well-versed in science, maths, technology, innovation and engineering is required.

The Chinese government has, for a long time now, recognized that old growth models are no longer relevant in the digital age.

The emphasis today is on innovation as the key driver toward more balanced and sustainable growth.

China recognizes that emerging technologies and the digital economy not only improve efficiencies but also improve production and services across all facets of life.

While China prides itself on its many advances in technology, it still recognizes that many will be left behind.

There is still a great deal of work to do, said Bruce Ren on the sidelines of the Sydney China Business Forum. As chief strategy officer for top Chinese robotics company UBTech, Ren said education will determine the future.

UBTech set up in Shenzhen because of its tech-savvy young population, Ren said, adding that the southern city is already an important tech hub for R&D.

“Education is the key,” he said. “The fact is, we are hard-pressed to get the skills we need … the competition is fierce.”

JD.com, a major Chinese e-commerce company, recently visited Australia to recruit more than 100 engineers specializing in artificial intelligence (AI).

“We are not only looking for talent in Australia, but globally,” a spokesperson for the company said.

“The trip to Australia was tied to an AI event in the country which had engineers from around the globe, so we spoke to candidates both from Australia and from other markets as well.”

JD.com is also talking to a number of Australian universities to form joint ventures for R&D, especially in the AI field.

Much of the research into innovation and technology now being carried out in universities around the world is backed and financed by the private sector.

Scientific exchange and research collaboration is expanding rapidly.

Francisco Marmolejo, lead tertiary education specialist with the World Bank in Washington DC, said research has become globalized, just like other domains of human activity.

“The physics research paper on the Large Hadron Collider (the world’s largest particle accelerator) published in 2015, with more than 5,000 authors, may be an extreme case, but it confirms that research no longer can be confined to one laboratory of an institution,” he said.

“Chinese universities have advanced notably in their proactive approach toward joint research, and, in general, joint academic collaboration with peers and institutions from all over the world.”

Marmolejo added that such openness has yielded positive effects, not only for Chinese universities but also for peer institutions abroad.

Australia is still a major draw card for Chinese students, with a long history of educational exchange, according to Partnership for Change, a report published last year by the East Asian Bureau of Economic Research at the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra and the China Center for International Economic Exchanges in Beijing.

After China’s opening-up begun in 1978, its first academic exchange agreement with a foreign university was established between Peking University and ANU in December 1980.

Since then, the relationship has expanded dramatically. Australian universities have signed more than 1,200 agreements with Chinese institutions — even more than with the United States — according to 2014 data from representative body Universities Australia.

In particular, scientific exchange and research collaboration is expanding rapidly.

Export income related to international education is now Australia’s third-largest export after iron ore and coal, worth almost A$20 billion ($15.6 billion) per year, according to the latest Australian Department of Education figures, from 2015.

Sharing experience for a better world Peking University institute helps promising leaders from developing countries learn from China’s development path

October 9-15, 2017
By DAVID BLAIR

davidblair@chinadaily.com.cn

In a September 2015 speech at the United Nations headquarters in New York, President Xi Jinping announced a series of programs that China would make available to other developing countries, including projects in poverty reduction, agricultural cooperation, trade promotion, environmental protection, health and education.

In addition, during the speech to the High-Level Roundtable on South-South Cooperation, he announced: “China will also set up an academy of South-South cooperation and development.”

Yao Yang, a professor of economics at the National School of Development of Peking University, said his school was honored to jump into action after Xi’s speech. South-South cooperation refers to coordination between developing countries.

The Institute of South-South Cooperation and Development, an English-language graduate school at the university, was established to give promising leaders from developing countries the opportunity to learn about, and analyze in depth, China’s economic development experience.

Yao, who is now executive dean of the institute, said the school will concentrate on economic development, in contrast with Western organizations that tend to focus on international relations and government management.

“We are going to focus on economic development, so economists are the backbone of our faculty. I think that is more pertinent for developing countries, where raising incomes is the most pressing issue.”

Several students plan to tie their experiences at the institute with future work related to the Belt and Road Initiative or the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

Fu Jun, the institute’s academic dean, emphasized that developing countries are important to China’s economic future. “To link different parts of the world together, you need to have connections at the physical dimensions, at the economic institution dimension, and also at the dimension of ideas. This program is at the dimension of ideas, the exchange of ideas, and people-to-people contact,” he said.

Fu kicked off the Institute of South-South Cooperation and Development’s second year with a discussion of a key issue that permeates the curriculum: How do you find the correct balance between the state and the market?

“Why do we need to have a state?” Fu said. “When you read Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, there are hundreds of pages in that book on the role of the state. Serious economists argue that the market is efficient. They never claim that it is perfect. So the implicit message is that markets themselves cannot work without institutions. Where do we draw the line between the market and the state?”

Yao said the institute offers a unique opportunity for students to learn from China’s experience.

“Our faculty has a unique combination of knowledge. All are trained in the US or other countries. In the meantime, we know China well. We have studied China for our lifetime, so we have a good combination. We believe that the Chinese experience is pertinent for other developing countries. But don’t get me wrong — we don’t want students to simply copy the Chinese experience.”

He said he expects students to be able to decide which parts of the Chinese experience are most useful for their own countries.

Yao also emphasized the quality of debate at the school, with faculty ranging “from the ultraright to the ultraleft”.

“Students can listen to all sorts of voices and opinions,” he said. “That is their choice, whether they are going to choose market-oriented or government-oriented policies.”

The institute’s curriculum covers four policy domains: Development and poverty reduction, innovation and education, population and health, and climate change and the environment. The course covers topics including leadership skills and microeconomics.

Students also conduct field studies in rural areas, special economic zones, coastal cities and interior parts of China. For example, they visit Xiaogang village in East China’s Anhui province, where a group of villagers started China’s reforms by secretly agreeing to divide their collective farm into private plots. The students are asked to analyze the risks and incentives that were faced by the villagers.

Current students at the Institute of South-South Cooperation and Development come from 23 developing countries in Africa, Latin America, Asia and Europe. They all work in the public sector or for nonprofit organizations.

Several students plan to tie their experiences at the institute with future work related to the Belt and Road Initiative, the China-led plan to revitalize the ancient Silk Road trading routes, or the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the development bank set up to provide infrastructure funding.

Students of the Institute of South-South Cooperation and Development come from 23 developing countries in Africa, Latin America, Asia and Europe. Credit: Zou Hong / China Daily

Nasser Alsahqsi, from Oman, said: “We in the Middle East depend on oil and gas, but these will vanish someday. What I want to understand is how China survived without what we have in terms of raw materials. I really want to reform the backward philosophy of my country. We need to open up to foreign direct investment.”

Yousaf Malik was sent to the institute by his employer, the secretariat for the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor in the Pakistan Ministry of Planning and Reform. His agency is responsible for dealing with China’s National Development and Reform Commission and with Chinese companies that invest in Pakistan.

He said that Chinese loans to his country are particularly effective because they give the money directly to the company, whereas the International Monetary Fund (IMF) gives money to the government, which can be lost as a result of corruption.

“IMF projects tend to go on and on and on,” he added, “but the Chinese projects are held to a deadline. We also have a free hand to choose our own projects with Chinese money, but not with the IMF.”

Kamila Sitchanova, from Kazakhstan, said that in 2015 her country adopted a strategy similar to the Belt and Road Initiative. She works in the international cooperation division of the State Revenue Committee in Kazakhstan and focuses on cooperation between Kazakh and Chinese customs. China is sponsoring her department’s efforts to set up automatic checkpoints along all of her country’s borders.

Thandanani Wah Ziqubu, a 27-year-old from South Africa, has worked for the Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs and is a member of the Communist Party of South Africa. He has had trouble finding work because of South Africa’s high unemployment rate.

He emphasized the opportunities for people to work and contribute in China. “The culture and the education they receive promote that culture of working and of participation from each and every person.”

“We understand that whatever policy a country designs has to have intellectual insight and a level of sensitivity to the local conditions,” said Fu Jun, academic dean of the Institute of South-South Cooperation and Development.

Nipuna Thibbutumunuwa, from Sri Lanka, is a member of the Communist Party. He said: “Since 1953, the Chinese and Sri Lankan governments have had very close relationships, such as free trade agreements, investments and student exchange programs.”

Thibbutumunuwa noted that during the civil war, which ended in 2009 after 26 years, China supported Sri Lanka by providing humanitarian aid, military training and the latest technology. “Even after the war, as you can see, there’s massive development happening in Sri Lanka. China came forward and lent a helping hand by investing in Sri Lanka in all sectors, such as infrastructure, health, transportation and so forth.”

Edwin Mollel, an economist who works on policy and planning at Tanzania’s Foreign Ministry, said: “China shares the same path as my country. They started from a humble background and have made tremendous achievements. I would like to learn the lessons on exactly what they did to get where they are.

“We can copy the leadership style that focuses on knowing where you want to go and carefully planning how to get there gradually, with the commitment of the leaders to lift citizens out of poverty and embracing technology at the forefront.

“Why can’t Tanzania do that? We have the brains. All we need is the capacity and the leaders behind us.”

Fu, the dean, said that the strength of the course comes from China’s 40 years of experience of reform.

“It is very focused, very intensive,” he said of the course. “It includes a lot of public policy management skills. So, the idea is to elevate not only intellectual clarity but also managerial skills. We understand that whatever policy a country designs has to have intellectual insight and a level of sensitivity to the local conditions.”

China’s universities on the march Growing prestige of institutes and enhanced career opportunities are attracting more international students

October 9-15, 2017
By MIKE BASTIN

The Times Higher Education World University Rankings for 2018 — arguably the most prestigious and credible such ranking — was published on Sept 5. And once again Chinese universities experienced an impressive rise.

China’s Tsinghua and Peking universities both rose again, with Tsinghua climbing five places to 30th in the rankings, only three places behind Peking, which rose two places to joint 27th in this year’s rankings.

Peking and Tsinghua, China’s top two universities, have improved upon last year in both teaching and research.

Peking University now occupies a position jointly with the world-renowned Edinburgh and New York universities, and Tsinghua overtook University of California, San Diego.

Two further Chinese universities also climbed into the world’s top 50: Hong Kong University (ranked 40th) and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (close behind in 44th place).

The Chinese University of Hong Kong, ranked 58th, also climbed comfortably into the world’s top 100, making a total of five Chinese universities among the world’s elite.

A ranking inside the world’s top 100 is widely considered strategically important to any university’s global credibility.

All in all, studying at a Chinese university now provides an ideal opportunity to become far better prepared for any international career.

Narrowly outside the top 100 now sit Shanghai’s Fudan University (ranked 116th) and City University of Hong Kong (ranked 119th). Also inside the world’s top 150 sits China’s University of Science and Technology (132nd).

Nanjing (169th), Zhejiang (177th), Hong Kong Polytechnic University (182nd), Shanghai Jiao Tong (188th) and the National Taiwan University (198th) combine for a grand total of 13 Chinese universities that now occupy positions inside the world’s top 200.

According to the Webometrics Ranking of World Universities, a list from the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas, or CSIC (the largest public research body in Spain), 26,368 universities around the world should be included in any respectable world rankings survey and assessment.

This provides important perspective and, according to this global number, means that these top-13 Chinese universities are easily among the world’s top 1 percent.

In total, 77 countries are represented in the CSIC ranking but only 27 of those have one or more universities in the top 200, which also puts into clear perspective the representation of a whopping 13 Chinese universities in the elite group.

The results, which are subject to an independent audit by professional services firm PwC, are calculated using 13 performance indicators underlying five metrics: Research, teaching, research influence, industry income and international outlook.

In addition to these five metrics is the growing attractiveness of a Chinese university education across the international student community.

But why is this? What changes are taking place inside many Chinese universities that in recent years have made them far more attractive and internationally competitive?

The answer to this important question can probably best be summarized in five key points:

  • Chinese universities’ growing reputation: At both the undergraduate and postgraduate level, Chinese universities’ credibility has been increasing steadily in recent years. International respect and recognition is something they have demonstrated recently with significant rises in major global rankings.

For example, in 2011 only six Chinese universities made it into the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, but recently this number has soared.

  • Chinese government support for and investment in international students is substantial and increasing: The Chinese government is offering a wide range and record number of attractive funding opportunities to international students.

For example, there are currently more than 40,000 scholarships at almost 300 Chinese universities on offer to international students. The number of scholarships available has increased fivefold since 2006, and now more than 40 percent of all international students new to China receive some form of government sponsorship.

  • The career-enhancing implications are considerable: Knowledge of the Chinese business environment and experience of living in the country can only increase any student’s international career prospects.

Chinese companies and China generally are growing in global significance, and the chances of working inside China or with a Chinese company are high. Studying at a Chinese university, of course, also presents the perfect opportunity to learn the language, also a major career boost.

Crucial skills and strengths such as open-mindedness, flexibility and cross-cultural teamwork can only increase substantially with significant time spent living and studying in China.

  • An increasing number of Chinese cities have respected universities: Until quite recently it was mainly the first-tier cities of Beijing and Shanghai where the vast majority of international students chose to study.

But right now only 32 percent of the international students studying in China are based in either of those cities. Currently, there are as many as 13 Chinese cities in which more than 10,000 international students are situated, seven of which have more than 20,000.

For example, southwestern cities such as Chengdu and Chongqing are increasingly popular, as are Dalian and Harbin in the northeast.

  • Studying in China is a growing trend: The overall number of international students in China has doubled in the last 10 years.

China now boasts the third-largest population of international students in the world, close behind the United States and the United Kingdom. The growth rate, averaging 10 percent per year for each of the last 10 years, is far higher than any other international study destination.

An impressive and increasing number of countries now make up the varied cultural backgrounds of international students currently studying in China.

Ten years ago, South Korea was by far the country from which most international students came, making up more than one-third of all international students then studying in China.

But now this figure has fallen to only 17 percent and more than 10 countries each contribute more than 3 percent of the current total of international students.

But perhaps most significant of all, and the most important reason behind the global rise of Chinese universities, is the adoption of a far more participative teaching and learning culture.

Increasing numbers of Chinese universities now incorporate student engagement, discussion and debate in all aspects of the learning experience. Teamwork, assessed group presentations and critical discussion and feedback now feature far more heavily.

For example, continuous assessment rather than written examinations is now far more common, and students are expected to challenge their tutors and each other with critical points of view.

International students considering a university education in China will also find that an increasing number of their Chinese tutors have experienced an international education, and there will be a large number of tutors from many other countries as well.

All in all, studying at a Chinese university now provides an ideal opportunity to become far better prepared for any international career.

The author is a visiting professor at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing and a senior lecturer at Southampton University. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

Delivering world-class education China draws up plan to emerge as global leader in the university sector and increase soft power

October 9-15, 2017
By LI JIANZHONG

The Ministry of Education and other government departments have jointly issued a plan to build world-class universities and disciplines, which is of great significance to realize the Chinese Dream and increase China’s soft power.

China’s bid to create world-class universities started in 1995 with the 211 Project. The project was launched to raise the educational standards of about 100 universities. In 1998, it was followed by the 985 Project, which selected 39 universities from those included in the 211 Project to be China’s key universities to develop.

With sustained government investment and the efforts of the universities concerned, the two projects have made remarkable achievements in recent years, raising the international status of Chinese mainland universities.

The new so-called Double World-Class plan aims to raise the status of Chinese universities and disciplines, which will provide strong support to achieve the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.

China has 2,880 colleges and universities, and 37 million enrolled college students. The plan aims to help more Chinese mainland universities, besides Peking University and Tsinghua University, squeeze into the ranks of the top 100 universities worldwide.

High standards

According to the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2018, there are 43 universities in the United States among the top 100 international universities, which indicates the US is still a strong higher education power.

Even some countries whose higher education scale and economic volume is smaller than China’s have more universities in the rankings. For example, the United Kingdom has 12 universities on the list, Germany has nine and Australia six.

Among the 137 universities in the new plan, 42 universities are to be established as world-class institutions, while 95 universities on the list are to develop world-class disciplines.

The Chinese government is increasing investment to promote the development of these universities and disciplines.

But, besides China, emerging economies like India, Russia and Vietnam are also implementing plans aimed at raising the standards of their universities.

As the world’s second-largest economy, China has stronger economic strength to support the development of world-class universities and disciplines.

According to the plan, the central government will allocate funds for these goals, as well as the relevant infrastructure to support them.

Furthermore, universities will gain strong motivation to improve the quality and standards of their education. Universities should first accept domestic evaluation by taking China’s actual situation into consideration.

President Xi Jinping has pointed out that China’s world-class universities should have Chinese characteristics.

Du Yubo, former vice-minister of education, has said that China’s higher education development should be closely connected with the actual objective and direction of China’s development.

He said that the universities should serve the public, reform and opening-up, and socialist modernization construction. They should also help consolidate and develop the socialist system with Chinese characteristics.

The universities should also accept international reviews based on quantitative assessment criteria, such as academic performance, research and studies, paper citations and their degree of internationalization.

Dynamic development

The construction of top universities and disciplines should be dynamic and performance-oriented. The new plan to develop these should be based on the results of assessments every five years.

In addition, the internationalization pace of China’s higher education is to be accelerated. The universities included in the new plan will be motivated to attract more excellent overseas professors, scientific researchers and students, and to conduct communication and exchanges with high-level foreign universities, such as exchange students, visiting scholars, mutual credit recognition and joint talent cultivation.

Meanwhile, universities on the list will actively deepen academic exchanges and scientific research cooperation with world-class foreign universities and academic institutions.

They are also expected to deeply participate in major regional and international scientific research projects in order to attain international influence.

Thus, by the middle of this century, China is expected to be a power in higher education.

The author is a researcher at the Research Center for International Comparative Education, National Institute of Education Sciences.

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