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August 27, 2009

Higher education in China — Dr. Arup Kumar Hazarika

— Dr. Arup Kumar Hazarika
Confucius has shaped the overall Chinese mindset for the past 2500 years. Yet, higher education in China has experienced other powerful influences. Before the Opium War in 1840, China had been very isolated. But later, with the arrival of gunboats in the war, Chinese intellectuals discovered the numerous western advances in science and technology. They learned from these advances, and the Chinese higher education system began to make strides.

But disaster struck in the form of Soviet influence when the People’s Republic of China was formed. In the early 1950s, all higher education was brought under government leadership and research was separated from teaching. Deplorably the government also introduced a central plan that nationally unified instruction plans, syllabi and textbooks. Even till 2005, as Chinese higher education continues its struggle with excessive departmentalisation, segmentation and overspecialisation in particular, the Soviet impact is still felt.

From 1967 to 1976, China’s Cultural Revolution took another toll on higher education, which was devastated more than any other sector. As a key example, the numbers of postsecondary students dropped precipitously from 6,74,400 to 47,800. Fortunately, since the 1980s, Chinese higher education has undergone a series of reforms that have slowly effected improvement.

In recent years, 10 universities have been targeted by the Chinese government to become ‘world-class’– including Peking and Tsinghua Universities. Universities are once again required to be centers of teaching and research, and internationally oriented programmes constitute an increasing proportion of curriculum. Still, a national oversight body accredits only a disturbing 5 per cent of the Chinese equivalents of our community and technical colleges. So, contradictions persist.

In terms of actual size, today there are some 4,000 Chinese institutions; student enrollments are 15 million, with rapid growth that is expected to peak in 2008. Even so, the Chinese higher education system is still not meeting the needs of 85 per cent of the college-age cohort. In a country of 1.3 billion people, such numbers are astronomical.

Higher education in China is continuously growing, changing and developing. There are over 2,000 universities and colleges, with more than six million enrollments in total. China has set up a degree system, including Bachelors, Masters and Doctoral degrees that are open to foreign students. The country offers non-degree programmes as well.

According to the Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China, the government authority on all matters pertaining to education and language, higher education in China has played a significant part in economic growth, scientific progress and social development in the country ‘by bringing up large scale of advanced talents and experts for the construction of socialist modernisation.

New trends in Chinese higher education are attracting the attention of educators around the world. Since China began to develop a Western oriented university model at the end of nineteenth century, Chinese higher education has continued to evolve. Since the late 1980s, however, tremendous economic development in China has stimulated reforms in higher education that have resulted in remarkable changes.

China exhibits a great need for better regulation as well as more academic qualifications, teaching experience, and understanding of social changes and technology. To achieve success, the State realises that the impact of the Cultural Revolution on education must be reversed. To this end, top universities now function as centres of excellence that serve as a model for all other institutes.

As evident here, China exhibits a great need for better regulation as well as more academic qualifications, teaching experience, and understanding of social changes and technology. To this end, top universities now function as centres of excellence that drive the entire higher education system to a higher level. One helpful model includes twinning projects where leading universities ‘twin’ with poorer ones to provide equipment, curricula and faculty development China’s demand for postsecondary education is immense and the country currently cannot keep pace with this compelling need. This means US, European and Australian universities can play a significant role by partnering with Chinese universities, aggressively recruiting Chinese students for study in their host countries, increasing the number of students they send to study in China and adding to their presence on the mainland, either as official foreign campuses or extensions. Australia, Hong Kong and other Asian countries are already making strides into this market.

Partnering offers a mutual economic benefit, both if scholars choose to stay in the host country to return to the mainland. Most Chinese students who go abroad are among the best and brightest from their home country. Thus, if they choose to stay, they propel the economy of their host country when they take on jobs and establish themselves. If they leave, they take the many contacts and connections they have established, alongside a generally positive perception of their host nation and hosts with them. This allows for continued economic gain, as scholars can convince their home nations and firms to propel business in a certain direction.

Most national and international rankings of Chinese universities place Peking University among the top universities in China. The Times Higher Education Supplement in 2006 ranked Peking University as the 14th best university in the world, taking and highest spot in Asia; the same ranking in 2007 placed the Universitiy at 36th and in 2008, it was ranked at the 50th. The Academic Ranking of World Universities 2008 placed the University between 201 and 300.

Peking University is a comprehensive and national key university. The University consists of 30 colleges and 12 departments with 93 specialities for undergraduates, 2 specialists for the second Bachelor’s degree, 199 specialities for Master’s degree candidates and 173 specialities for Doctoral candidates. While in a leading position of basic sciences research and teaching, the university has gained itself very successful development of applied sciences.

At present, Peking University has 216 research institutions and research centres, including 2 national engineering research centres, 81 key national disciplines, 12 national key laboratories. With 4.5 million holdings, the university library is the largest of its kind in Asia.

The university has made an effort to combine the research on fundamental scientific issues with the training of personnel with high level specialised knowledge and professional skill as demanded by the country’s modernisation. It strives not only for the simultaneous improvements in teaching and research work, but also for the promotion of interaction and mutual promotion among various subjects.

Peking University has been becoming a centre for teaching and research, consisting of diverse branches of learning such as pure and applied sciences, social sciences and the humanities and sciences of management and education. Its aim is to rank among the world’s best universities in the next couple of decades with the school’s leadership placing great emphasis on developing bilateral relationship with prominent American universities for student and faculty exchanges. ASSAM TRIBUNE

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