Editor’s note: The Chinese people have always attached great importance to education. In the 20th century, China went through a long and arduous journey from one-teacher schools to world-class universities and achieved excellence in different fields, including science and technology. What will China’s educational journey look like for the rest of the 21st century? In the eighth of a series of comments, a veteran China Daily reporter seeks answers:
Private universities are playing an increasingly important role in strengthening the higher education sector, although some readjustments are needed to ensure their healthy development.
When the western, modern education system was introduced to China over 100 years ago, the majority of schools and universities were private institutions run by missionaries, charities and some wealthy people. After the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, these schools were transformed into public institutions.
However, with millions of young people eager to obtain higher and better education after the launch of reform and opening up in 1978, the authorities realized that public schools and universities did not have enough material resources and to meet student needs, and issued a number of licenses to private universities in 1985, but only to provide “non-degree education”.
It took more than 10 years for private institutions to gain the confidence of government and society that they could provide quality education. It was not until 1997 that the government authorized some universities to offer bachelor’s degree courses and a few others to organize postgraduate courses. Today, the 433 private universities offering bachelor’s degrees represent about 20% of the national total.
The fact that the National People’s Congress, China’s top legislature, passed the Private Education Promotion Law in 2002 giving private institutions the same legal entity as public schools shows how universities private institutions have become important for the improvement of higher education. But although the government encourages private universities to continue contributing to higher education and improve their performance, some experts say more government support and stricter self-discipline are needed for their healthy development.
Since public universities receive more government funding, they can afford to lower their tuition and focus on improving their performance. Private universities, however, must seek investment from businesses and individuals and charge higher tuition fees, which are usually three times higher than public universities.
By law, private universities must be non-profit institutions and reinvest a certain, usually significant, portion of their profits to improve the quality of education and/or expand their operations. However, with few exceptions, most private universities lack sufficient funds to keep themselves afloat, let alone improve the quality of education, and if the government does not provide them with more financial and political support , their survival could be at stake.
Another headache for private universities is the difficulty they face in attracting promising students and high-quality talent. Private universities attract students who have passed the university entrance exam (gaokao), but these students are usually those with relatively low scores – the best prefer public universities because they charge lower tuition fees high, provide quality education and better job prospects.
Moreover, despite passing the gaokao, albeit with lower grades, many students choose to retake the exam next year instead of enrolling in private universities. Therefore, to attract more students, some private institutions seek to affiliate with well-known public universities under a counterpart agreement, so that their graduates can obtain degrees and diplomas from established universities.
The central education authorities saw such shortcomings and ordered public universities to sever their ties with private institutions. While such measures are necessary to ensure fairness, they have dealt a blow to private institutions, which could see a further reduction in enrollment next year. It seems that despite having flourished for a few years, the number of private establishments may soon begin to decline.
This means that the healthy development of private universities does not depend on their growing number but on improving the quality. The sooner private universities realize this, the better their chances of survival.
The new University of West Lake is taking the lead in this regard. Backed by a 20 billion yuan ($3.09 billion) fund, Hangzhou University in Zhejiang province has attracted some of the best professors and scholars from around the world with the aim of becoming one of the best universities, at least in some areas. research in the near future.
Let’s hope it succeeds, because its success will serve as a great example for the development of private universities.
The author is the former deputy editor of China Daily.