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China: Higher education sector slowing (and refining) expansion and reform efforts

The National Audit Office of China has revealed that, as of 2010, rapid expansion in higher education has resulted in total debt of RMB 263.4 billion (EUR 28.4 billion) at the local level. Much of the debt has come as a result of investments in campus infrastructure and over-enrolment of students in recent years. With the approaching deadlines for debt repayment and the introduction of China’s macroeconomic policy to cool down the overheated economy, the growth in China’s higher education sector is expected to slow down. Governments at the local level, as in the Shandong province, have implemented tough debt financing measures to control the spending of universities. At the central level, a shift in the policy discourse from ‘hardware development’ to ‘software development’ was also observed in the first annual review of China’s Medium and Long Term Development Plan held in Beijing this month.

Parallel to the new emphasis on financial restrictions, higher education governance reform in China is also slowing. The experimental “bureaucrat-free” South University of Science and Technology (SUST) in Shenzhen (see ACA Newsletter – Education Europe, February 2011) began to look much more like a more traditionally bureaucrat-heavy Chinese institution when it recently appointed the mayor of the city as its council chief and announced plans to set up its own Communist Party committee. In the meantime, the Ministry of Education (MoE) announced the selection of 26 universities to participate in a ‘Special Zone for Education and Teaching Reform’, which promises more autonomy in governance and teaching for the participating institutions. Rather than launching full scale governance reform at the institutional level, as SUST initially planned to achieve, the selected universities will only nominate one of their faculties or institutes to participate in the reform

To cope with rapid economic growth, China’s higher education sector continues to implement discipline-based reforms targeting the manpower needs of the country. Following the model of its “Outstanding Engineering Education and Training Scheme” (see ACA Newsletter – Education Europe, January 2011), the MoE announced that the following five universities have been selected to participate in an “Outstanding Legal Education and Training Scheme” to be launched at the end of this year:  

  • China University of Political Science and Law,
  • Southwest University of Political Science and Law,
  • East China University of Political science and Law,
  • Zhongnan University of Economics and Law and
  • Northwest University of Politics and Law. Ministry of Education of PRC China – Debt Financing in Shandong Province (in Chinese) Ministry of Education of PRC China – Special Zone for Education and Teaching Reform (in Chinese) Ministry of Education of PRC China – Outstanding Legal Education and Training Scheme (in Chinese)