Chinese higher ed after the Cultural Revolution: continuity and change

October 5, 2010, [MD]

In discussing the reestablishment of the university system after the Cultural Revolution, Pepper (1990, 131) believes it was essentially a continuation of the pre-Cultural Revolution model from the 1960s:

In all other respects, the university system that was reestablished between 1977 and 1980 essentially replicated the antebellum model of the 1960s, which was essentially the same as the Sino-Soviet compromise variation that had emerged from the early 1950s pro-Soviet period. Hence, all of that system's centralized features abolished during the 1966-76 decade were restored. These included the national unified college entrance examinations, unified enrolment and job assignment plans, unified curricula, and systematized rules and regulations for everything.

As an example, the “Decision on unifying management in higher education” was affirmed by the Central Committee in 1979, and the Ministry of Education was again given the role of regulating nationally standard teaching plans, teaching outlines, and textbooks. The Ministry of Education only administered 38 higher institutions directly, but it made all major curricular decisions for the 226 institutions administered by other national ministries, and the 411 institutions administered by provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions (Hayhoe 1987).

However, change was coming, and the changes to the “The Sixty Articles”, which had originally been proposed in the retrenchment period of the early 1960s, were harbingers of greater openness. Universities were to be centres of both teaching and research, as of the Decision on Reform promulgated in 1985, not only of teaching, and intellectuals were to be regarded as part of the working class, thus having greater freedom of action (cited in Zhou Yuliang 1986, 461). There was also a small increase in the power of university presidents, although the role of the party committee was still important (Hayhoe 1989).

With the 1985 reform, the government aimed to:

change the management system of excessive government control of the institutions of higher education, expand decision-making in the institutions under the guidance of unified educational policies and plans of the state, strengthen the connection of the institutions of higher education with production organizations, scientific research organizations and other social establishments, and enable the institutions of higher education to take the initiative and ability to meet the needs of economic and social development. (cited in Hayhoe 1989, 40-41).

Universities gained much leverage in adjusting the objectives of various disciplines, formulating their own teaching plans and programs, compiling and selecting teaching materials (Hayhoe 1991). There was also a reduction in required course hours in favor of electives, more time for self-study and student initiatives. The role of the Ministry of Education was no longer to produce authoritative teaching plans and outlines, but rather to organize teaching material committees (jiaoyu ziliao hui, 教育资料会) and guide the development of material. It also acquired foreign curricular material from from a wide range of countries, not only the Soviet Union, but also Japan, Germany, France, and the United States, among others, and organized their translation and distribution (Hayhoe 1989).

The quotes in this text is from the MA Thesis "The Chinese National Top Level Courses Project: Using Open Educational Resources to Promote Quality in Undergraduate Teaching" by Stian Håklev, University of Toronto 2010.

Stian Håklev October 5, 2010 Toronto, Canada
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