This chapter has summarized developments in Chinese higher education during the last 60 years, to show the factors enabling the Top-Level Courses Project. After the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the Soviet system of higher education is imported whole-sale through Russian experts, and translation. From 1950 to 1976, there is a constant struggle between the extreme left, and the moderate factions, leading to excesses like the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. During these periods, education becomes much more localized and applied, however once the disruption is over, the system quickly reverts to the stable centralized and highly controlled model. This lasts until the reform period at the end of the 1970’s, and beginning of 1980’s. The gradual opening up of courses, and increased autonomy for individual universities and professors is immediately followed by the development of course evaluation systems.
Throughout the period, there is a tension between equality and excellence. While the 1990’s and 2000’s see a large growth of the entire system, there are also a number of important projects that directly fund excellent units. The 211 Project not only selects the top universities in China, but also the top departments, all this through a peer review. In the next chapter, I will argue that the Top-Level Courses Project is a natural extension of this, going from selecting and funding excellent universities, to selecting and funding excellent departments, to selecting and funding excellent courses. These courses are then held up as examples to others, and because of the advent of the internet, courses are also published online – which fits perfectly with the strong push for use of IT in education which has been present since Project 211. The next chapter will discuss the Top-Level Courses Project in detail.