AAS Annual Meeting

China and Inner Asia Session 618

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Session 618: The Rise and Global Impact of the Chinese Academy: Does the Education Blueprint Matter?

Organizer and Chair: Heidi A. Ross, Indiana University-Bloomington, USA

Discussant: Stanley Rosen, University of Southern California, USA

The Chinese higher education system is undergoing reform on a scale never before seen internationally and having a commensurate impact on education worldwide. The Ministry of Education recently unveiled a highly ambitious and unusually transparent “2020 Blueprint” for educational development across the next decade that continues to inspire heated debate, especially regarding higher education. A chief priority is summarized as heightening “the global competitiveness of higher education” through the creation of “world leading innovative talents,” “internationally renowned flagship disciplines,” and “world class universities.” Promulgation of the Blueprint provides a timely springboard for analyzing the tensions inherent in and likelihood of achieving these aims, as they remain hampered by unequal, stultifying admission procedures; academic corruption; constrained university governance and autonomy; a paucity of mutually supportive academic networks across universities within and outside China; narrow undergraduate curricula poorly articulated to diverse missions; and poor quality control of both teaching and research. Panelists examine these obstacles in the key areas of the training, values, incentives, and rewards of the academic professoriate; Sino-foreign collaboration in education and research; the social legitimacy and flexibility of the college entrance examination; the challenges of reforming the human resources system; the impact of the internet and web-based technologies on the pattern of information absorption and communication among college students; and the emergence of a less utilitarian educational reform ethos to anchor educational quality. Panelists analyze national reform policies in the context of how they impact global discourses on the value of universities to economies, societies, and polities.

China’s Universities in a Globalizing World: The Changing Academic Profession and Transnational Partnerships
Gerard A. Postiglione, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

Qian Xuesen, the father of Chinese rocketry and spaceflight, and Richard Levin, the president of Yale University, have publicly discussed what keeps China’s universities from taking a leading position in the global academy. Among chief shortcomings are academic culture and university governance, which the author approaches from two directions: reforms in China’s academic profession and Sino-foreign collaboration in higher education. The paper unpacks comparative results from a 25 country survey of the academic profession, including the Chinese mainland and Hong Kong, on faculty profiles, attitudes toward governance and academic culture, and research productivity patterns. Next, the paper examines results of the 2003 law on Sino-foreign cooperation in higher education and views of academics about the extent to which such collaboration has eliminated or decreased academic corruption, improved the quality of teaching and research, and impacted academic freedom and tolerance of cultural diversity. The author, a member of the team responsible for China’s data in the 25 country survey and directly involved in case studies of Sino-foreign collaboration, argues that China’s academic profession and Sino-foreign educational collaboration are potentially transformative forces for achieving 2020 Blueprint’s aims. However, a lack of focus on transnational partnerships in the social sciences and humanities has slowed liberalized thinking and the bridging of minds across national borders, and hindered innovation within China’s academic profession. Unless the 2020 Blueprint can result in increased college and university autonomy, results of cooperation in cross-border educational partnerships will remain limited.

China's Massification of Higher Education: A Comparative Perspective
Qiang Zha, York University, Canada

This paper uses the well-known metaphor of “walking on two legs” to analyze how China can embrace mass higher education in less than ten years. The paper examines China’s “massification” goals in the context of educational expansion patterns of the U.S., Western Europe, Latin America, and greater East Asia. The author concludes that China’s model is different, even from the American model it has recently embraced, particularly in terms of its strong centralism and emphasis on efficiency, features that are becoming attractive to policy makers in other systems. The author explains China’s system is characterized by tensions among its various sectors, which could turn into either positive dynamics for vibrant growth or negative forces leading to unexpected problems. After unprecedented expansion between 1999 and 2006, Chinese higher education has reached a historical juncture that calls for its uncoupling from what might be viewed as default neoliberal features, adopted for the sake of global competitiveness. Chinese higher education must reconsider its successes in the light of more collaborative ideologies, grounded in the ideals of social justice and human potential. The author sees a reflection of this shift in the 2020 Blueprint, which is simultaneously framed by a human capital perspective and a “front and center” call for educational equity. Qian Xuesen’s challenge to develop world class institutions will only be met when Chinese policy makers and educators focus attention on the intrinsic value of education and the development of human potential, rather than merely its instrumental value for economic growth.

A Case Study of Shantou University: Towards a Value Model in Higher Education Reform
Yuen-Ying Chan, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

This paper explores the challenges of higher education reform in China through a case study of recent reform efforts at Shantou University in southeast China. Reforms proposed in the 2020 Blueprint most relevant to this analysis include installing faculty governance, empowering university administrators, and allowing open recruitment of faculty members. These bold initiatives have been launched and tested at Shantou University since 2002, with funding support from Hong Kong-based billionaire entrepreneur, Li Ka-shing. The paper particularly focuses on HR (human resources) reform efforts at Shantou’s School of Journalism and Communication. In the context of achievements, challenges and obstacles of Shantou’s overall reform efforts, the author argues that HR reforms are critical to the success of other reform initiatives, but changes in the HR system are likewise contingent upon larger structural changes outside the university, such as reforms in China’s Hukou system. The author also argues that for 2020 Blueprint policies to succeed, the government must adopt a value approach (as much as a functional approach) to higher education reform by promoting fundamental values that underlie academic excellence: openness, transparency , and the pursuit of knowledge for its own intrinsic value. Lessons from Shantou can map reform trajectories for other universities and inform government implementation of Blueprint 2020 reform proposals. As the only Chinese public university funded mainly by private money, Shantou University also provides a unique test-of-concept for the government’s proposal to promote a private-public mixed mode of university funding.

Reforming the College Entrance Examination: Epicenter of Tension and Resistance
Heidi A. Ross, Indiana University-Bloomington, USA

This paper is co-authored by Yimin Wang ~ China’s 2020 Blueprint deepens the debate about the role of the College Entrance Examination (CEE) in shaping the mission of education and distributing opportunities and “talents” affecting social mobility, university autonomy, and national development. The CEE stands at the epicenter of educational reform, criticized for hamstringing institutional autonomy and innovation; reducing schooling to a soulless competition; and unfairly advantaging urban children with greater educational opportunities. This paper examines the staying power of the CEE and concludes that China’s examination culture will intensify in the short term, as the CEE is clung to as a last bastion of meritocracy and is reinforced by the state’s desire to cultivate what the 2020 Blueprint labels elite “selected innovative” and “pragmatic” talents. Content and policy analysis is used to explain CEE reform since 1978 and provide a backdrop for discussion of pedagogical, market, and compensatory reform strategies that tinker at the CEE’s margins. To take into account micro-institutional processes involved in the CEE’s creation, maintenance, and resistance to change, we examine stakeholders’ “frames of common perception” through 2010 interviews with exam candidates and their parents, and faculty and administrators from five Gansu Province five universities. Interviews illustrate what the CEE means to diverse families and reveal how admission policies impact students, teachers, and university faculty and administrators at elite, non-elite, and vocational institutions. Tensions, change and resistance are examined in the context of transforming structures and expectations of higher education admission systems across East Asia, for which China serves as an increasingly important referent.

Critical Thinking and Learning in the Era of New Media Technology: How Does Internet Proliferation Affect College Students in China?
Shiru Wang, City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

This paper focuses on the impact of internet technology on the patterns of information absorption and communication among Chinese college students and argues that the ongoing explosion of internet usage to some extent enhances students’ social attentiveness and capacity for critical thinking. The 2020 Blueprint emphasizes the agency of students in higher education and their active involvement in research, which requires students to develop the capability to think independently. The paper explores to what extent the advancement of media technology provokes students’ sophisticated thinking and learning, and in turn likely brings changes to China’s higher education system. Political education has long been one of the major obligations of schools and universities; information and knowledge of history and contemporary public issues have usually been delivered and discussed through particular ideological/normative claims. This picture has started to change with the development of new media technology since the mid-1990s. As of June 2009, internet users account for about a quarter of the PRC’s total population, surpassing the average worldwide internet penetration rate. Meanwhile, an increasing number of seemingly sporadic cases jointly suggest that internet usage engenders social and political consequences. According to data from the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC), about 95% of current college students are web-users. This paper argues that internet usage not only helps college students exchange information from a variety of angles, but that online communication in discussion venues such as forums and blogs provides an opportunity for students to develop a “habit” of critical thinking.

Reforming the College Entrance Examination: Epicenter of Tension and Resistance
Yimin Wang, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, USA

This paper is Co-Authored by Heidi Ross (see abstract above)