On September 22, the Ministry of Education (MOE) held a press conference to introduce its Opinions on Accelerating Postgraduate Education Reforms in the New Era jointly issued with the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) and the Ministry of Finance (MOF). The event was hosted by the MOE’s spokeswoman Xu Mei and attended by Hong Dayong, Director-General of the MOE’s Department of Degree Management and Postgraduate Education, Cai Changhua, Vice Director-General of the NDRC’s Department of Social Development, Lv Jianping, Vice Director-General of the MOF’s Department of Science, Education and Culture, Ge Daokai, Director-General of the Education Department of Jiangsu Province, Yang Bin, Vice President of Tsinghua University, and Wang Zhanjun, Vice Chairman of the Chinese Society of Academic Degrees and Postgraduate Education.
The Opinions laid out the overarching goal of building China into a postgraduate education powerhouse by 2035. Wang Zhanjun explained: “From only 629 graduate students in 1949 to over 3 million by 2020, China has made a historic leap to become one of the world’s largest postgraduate education providers, and is now determined to shift the focus of postgraduate education development from increasing scale to improving quality”. He noted that the document specified the guiding principles, strategic objectives and major measures of the postgraduate education reforms in the new era. Its issuance indicated that China had embarked on a fast track journey of pushing the postgraduate education system to a new level.
Six measures to solve urgent problems
Hong Dayong said that, to date, a relatively complete postgraduate education system had been established, providing strong support for the country’s technological innovation and strategic development. However, he also pointed out several prominent problems, such as the emphasis placed by some universities on the pursuit of increasing scale at the expense of quality and individuality, slow responses in restructuring of disciplines to reflect the dynamic nature of knowledge creation, and lack of support to the training of critically-needed talent and removal of technology bottlenecks for high-quality growth.
Hong further elaborated on six measures that had been proposed in the Opinions to address these problems:
i. Integrating the measurement of mindset transformation into the assessment of degree-granting institutions in line with central government requirements;
ii. Establishing a dynamic discipline adjustment mechanism that facilitates the development of basic and applied disciplines and inter-disciplines in parallel;
iii. Improving the talent training system to enhance the innovation ability of postgraduates and implementing special plans for training critically needed high-level talent;
iv. Reinforcing the management of postgraduate supervisors by clarifying their responsibilities and encouraging rigid supervision;
v. Raising the bar for the admission into, process of and graduation from postgraduate programs; and
vi. Enhancing the resource allocation mechanism to favor basic research and key and core technologies.
He added that, as part of its follow-up efforts, the MOE also developed ten special action plans to offer targeted guidance in the implementation of these measures. Taking the Action Plan for the Training of High-level Talent in Key and Core Technologies for example. The Plan is designed to speed up the cultivation of top-notch talent desperately needed by the country who are capable of easing bottlenecks in technological innovation by mobilizing first-class faculty staff, platforms and other resources.
Ensuring quality-oriented enrollment expansion
Hong said that while making the decision of increasing the total enrollment of postgraduate students to 1 million this year (a task that has already been accomplished), the central government also stressed the need to improve the quality of postgraduate education. This would be done through four measures:
i. Targeted enrollment expansion, especially favoring critical need disciplines, professional degree programs, and graduate training institutions in middle and west regions;
ii. Active resource mobilization to enhance campus facilities such as classrooms, dormitories, canteens, and libraries, with a view to creating better learning and living environment for postgraduates;
iii. Capacity building for supervisor teams and improvement of training models; and
iv. Enforcement of comprehensive quality monitoring throughout the course of postgraduate study.
Lv Jianping noted that the MOF had, between 2012 and 2019, spent a total of 5 trillion RMB on higher education with an annual increase of 7.9% and optimized the expenditure structure this year to support postgraduate enrollment expansion despite mounting pressure on fiscal balance. Cao Changhua added that, since 2016, 5.3 billion RMB had been channeled through the central government to support the development of tertiary institutions in terms of basic disciplines, inter-disciplines, disciplines with unique strengths, and key areas.
Yang Bin introduced Tsinghua University’s practices in establishing and improving a quality assurance system. Ge Daokai also presented the measures adopted by Jiangsu province to restructure the postgraduate education system to better adapt to the country’s major strategies and regional development.