China’s Transformation of Higher Education

John Richard Schrock: China’s Transformation of Higher Education

John Richard Schrock is Professor of Biology Emeritus at Emporia State University in Kansas. He is currently in China. While China is growing its universities, the U.S. is retreating from its historic commitment to make higher education accessible to all qualified students.

the elderly administrators soon retired. There was no supply of experienced junior administrators due to a Cultural Revolution that had closed many universities for a decade. That left China’s Ministry of Education with an opportunity to completely re-build its university system nationwide.

So by 1998, the situation was different. Weak universities were closed or merged with strong institutions. China doubled its university capacity, then doubled it again in the early 2000s, and doubled it again by 2010. The cities of Xi’an and Guangzhou built “university cities” with 10 new universities each. Chongqing built their “university city” with 17 different universities totaling 300,000 faculty, students and staff. –An area equivalent to the size of Wichita! -But all just universities. This was the greatest expansion of higher education in human history.

Now, the majority of their students who passed the gao kao high school leaving exam could now attend college. But students would now pay full tuition. And that greatly improved the faculty salaries and living conditions. Classrooms and labs soon became state-of-the-art.

In 1995, China selected over a hundred universities for its “211 Project,” feeding federal money toward building modern universities.

And as of two months ago, China began its Double World-Class Project. Their Ministry selected 42 universities to move to world-class status by 2050. 36 are Category A and 6 are Category B with a focus on applied research. It also has over 400 “key disciplines” spread across these and another 50 provincial universities that will receive additional generous governmental support.

Their National Natural Science Foundation announced a dramatic increase in grant funding two years ago. With a decade of substantial cash incentives for publishing in high ranked English journals, Chinese researchers have rapidly risen in authorship of research papers in the top science journals Science and Nature, second only to the U.S. in authorships. If this trend continues, China will be the top producer of research in a few more years.

For nearly four decades, China has invested in roads, railways, and other infrastructure. But the most important of these investments was education. Roads and rails move people around. Education moves people ahead. And it has paid off in raising the productivity of China’s population beyond expectations. The affluence of their institutions and the majority of their students reflect that payback. China understands that education is not just for filling those jobs needed today.

more on China in this IMS blog

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