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China striding ahead to become global force in higher education-- Overview of China’s progress in reforming and developing higher education since the 18th CPC National Congress

2018-09-06 11:05:00

In the newly published Academic Ranking of World Universities 2018, Tsinghua University, Peking University and Zhejiang University now appear among the world’s top 100 research universities, up from between 150th - 200th places in 2012. In the Times Higher Education (THE) rankings, top Chinese universities have climbed even further up the league table. China's top-performing universities have therefore significantly narrowed the gap that separates them in the rankings from other world-leading universities such as Harvard and Oxford since 2012.

The success of China’s higher education establishments is testimony to the effectiveness of the government’s aggressive investment policy to reinforce the institutional, pedagogical and research capacity of universities, since the 18th CPC National Congress in 2012. China is now on the verge of making true on its ambition to be home to some of the world’s best universities.

Balanced quantitative and qualitative higher education growth

China accounts for one fifth of all students in higher education across the world, and its gross college enrollment rate increased from 30 percent in 2012 to 45.7 percent now. This is coupled with a surge in the quality of university education. This spurt of progress can be explained by the support programs and initiatives, including the Special Program for Higher Education issued by the MOE in 2012, that have been introduced to map out the path for China to evolve into a global force in higher education by 2020; and the Overarching Program for Developing Top Chinese Universities and Disciplines into World-Class Ones introduced by the State Council in October 2015. On September 22, 2017, the much-anticipated list of “Double First-Class" universities and disciplines, to which extra government funding would be channeled, was released.

At the same time, Chinese universities have attracted, cultivated and retained a large pool of high-caliber teachers. In the last five years, 1,681 Yangtze River Scholar Award winners were hired by universities across the country; 2,675 experts were recruited from across the globe, accounting for 68.6 percent of all talent brought in under innovation support programs.

Between 2012 and 2016, the number of universities making the top four global top 500 lists surged from 31 to 98; the number of disciplines making the top 1 percent on a global list of programs based on Essential Science Indicators (ESI) data increased from 279 to 770. And the number of universities whose programs entered the world’s top 1 percent based on data compiled by Essential Science Indicators jumped from 91 to 192.

Deepening reforms in education and teaching

Since 2012, the disciplinary structure of China’s universities has undergone continuous optimization. An additional 10,800 undergraduate programs have been introduced, and 82 new majors of strategic importance for people's livelihood have been added.

China has achieved remarkable results in addressing the imbalances that exist in China’s higher education system through unrelenting investment to bolster the material and human capital needed by universities in economically disadvantaged central and western provinces. The central government funneled 5.6 billion RMB to 14 comprehensive universities in 14 underdeveloped provinces, and 10 billion RMB to 100 institutions located in the middle-western regions under another basic capacity building program.

Preferential policies have also been introduced to improve the academic credentials of teachers from these regions. Each year, for different Ph. D programs offered by universities located in the prosperous coastal provinces, some 400 places are reserved candidates from western provinces. In total 100 universities located in prosperous provinces are giving one-on-one aid to 75 of their counterparts in less developed provinces.

Research playing a greater role in propelling social and economic progress

Almost all of China’s major technological and engineering achievements of the past few years, from unmanned lunar exploration missions, the commissioning of the first homemade aircraft carrier, through to the deep-sea scientific exploration missions with the Jiaolong manned deep-sea submersible, could not have been possible without the intellectual and research support of universities. A “Made-in-China” success built on technological innovation from research institutions is pushing the country’s growth to the next level.

Each year, universities account for over 70 percent of winners of national awards in scientific, biomedical and engineering fields, and over 80 percent of research outcomes in social sciences. The number of patents granted has increased by around 20 percent annually. In terms of technological innovation, universities are responsible for implementing over 80 percent of projects funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China, are hosting some 60 percent of all national key laboratories, and have produced 80 percent of the SCI papers. Think tanks established by universities also play a key role in informing the government’s decision-making.

More active international cooperation to expand educational reach

Chinese universities have been more actively involved in international exchanges and cooperation by attracting an increasing number of international students and at the same time sending more of their own students to pursue their studies overseas.

By the end of 2016, China had established educational cooperation and exchange relations with 188 countries and territories and 46 major international organizations and signed mutual recognition agreements for academic degrees with 47 countries. There are 2,480 Sino-foreign joint venture institutions and projects in operation.

In 2017, 608,400 Chinese students left the country to pursue advanced studies overseas, exceeding the 600,000 mark for the first time, in a 11.74 percent increase on 2016 and cementing China’s position as the world’s largest source country for international students. In addition, a total of 489,200 international students from 204 countries and regions studied in higher education institutions in China, and the number of inbound students to China has seen double digit growth for two consecutive years.

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