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China’s Ministry of Education (MOE) published a new round of appraisal remarks about the 985 institutions this month. These remarks are summarised under three broad headings: joint efforts of the universities and the regions to advance regional economic and social developments, joint efforts of the national and local governments to promote the competitive advantages of the institutions, and joint efforts to accelerate the development of world-class (research) universities.
The remarks signal a nationally coordinated approach to improve the performance of the 985 institutions. Institutions that have developed specific profiles based on their own strengths, geographical locations, and national needs are highlighted in the appraisal. It is becoming clear that institutions in Shanghai, plus the top two universities – Peking University and Tsinghua University –, will continue to take the lead in international cooperation and competition, while institutions in Fujian province will strengthen their cooperation with Taiwan. In terms of disciplines, Guangdong has strategically positioned to develop cutting-edge OLED (organic light-emitting diode) display materials, while Zhejiang, Liaoning, and Chongqing provinces have specialised in marine, engineering and medical studies respectively.
China’s 985 Project has attracted much attention internationally since its birth in May 1998. The project has evolved from an elitist scheme (supporting only 9 institutions to become China’s Ivy League), to a ‘regional specialization’ scheme, pooling financial resources from both the national (RMB 26.5 billion, approx. EUR 3.25 billion) and provincial (RMB 18.6 billion, approx. EUR 2.28 billion) governments to support over 30 institutions in their respective regions. Despite the lack of a policy document that introduces the different phases of the 985 Project, a discipline-oriented support scheme launched in 2011 has been regarded as the ‘third-phase’ of the 985 Project. Instead of admitting more institutions into the project, the 2011 scheme focuses on a wide range of disciplines that match the needs of China’s development.
The new remarks on the 985 Project, as well as the expansion of the outstanding personnel development schemes from engineering to legal and medical personnel, all indicate a shift in China’s national policy from supporting a few elitist institutions to supporting ‘relevant’ disciplines. Such a discipline-oriented approach implies that cooperation with Chinese institutions will involve a much longer list of institutions that are selected under different schemes.