The Long March

With corruption in the Chinese education system in the news following the dismissal of the Minister of Education, Times Higher Education last week published a prescient article about the state of Chinese universities:

From a near-standing start in 1978, China is now the world’s biggest provider of higher education and the second-biggest producer of academic research papers. Before long, it is expected to become the world’s biggest economy.

But higher education is at something of a crossroads. While grappling with the effects of explosive growth in quality and access, the Government has also prioritised a drive – which some describe as an “obsession” – to ensure that an elite cadre of universities joins the ranks of the world’s best.

Analysts in and outside China warn that its exceptional progress to date could be stymied – and its goal to create a truly world-class system thwarted – without deep cultural reform. “One of China’s great challenges is to strengthen the academic profession,” says Philip Altbach, director of the Centre for International Higher Education at Boston College. “For a start, nationally only 9 per cent of China’s university staff hold doctorates. Traditions of academic freedom and meritocratic norms for promotions are slow to develop. Plagiarism and other forms of corruption are frequently reported.

“For China to develop a really world-class higher education system, it will need to ensure that the human and the philosophical ‘software’ is as well developed as the ‘hardware’ of buildings and laboratories,” Altbach says.


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