China's Higher Curricular Reform in Historical Perspective Author(s): Ruth E. S. Hayhoe Source: The China Quarterly, No. 110 (Jun., 1987), pp. 196-230

{Hayhoe, 1987}

Ed reform doc 1985, far-reaching consequences 

The "comprehensiveuniversities," devoted to pure knowledge in specialist disciplines, and the "polytechnical universities," which includeda rangeof narrowlydefinedtechnologicalfields,formedan elite within the system. The next echelon of institutions, which constituted by far the majority, were specialist institutions in such areas as agriculture, specialist engineering fields, medicine and teachertraining.Detailedteachingplansandcourseoutlinesforeach specializationwere set at the nationallevel by the Ministryof Higher Education,ensuringhighacademicstandardsacrossthe systemanda low level of control by university teachers and students over the selection, organization, pacing and timing of what was taught. Teaching and the transmission of both specialist knowledge and appropriateprofessional skills was the main purpose of the system, while researchwas separatedin institutesunderthe ChineseAcademy of Sciences.35

 The 601 specializationsto which studentswere recruitedmatchedneeds identifiedin differentsectorsof the socialist bureaucracyand annual recruitmentquotas were decided in accor- dance with the guidelines of the Five-Year Plan for each sector. Innovation consisted of insertingnew specializations,called for by the Plan, into old slots.

Control over all curricularknowledge was centralized within the

Ministryof Education.The "Decision on unifyingmanagementin the

higher education system" passed by the State Council in May 1963,

gave legalexpressionto this principle.41In this documentthe Ministry of Educationwasgivenexclusiveauthorityoverdecisionsaboutthe

establishmentof new specializationsin all higherinstitutions, worked out throughconsultationwith the StatePlanningCommissionin light of needs defined in the Five-YearPlan. It had full responsibilityfor preparingteachingplans for each specialization,teachingoutlines for each course and textbooks that should be nationally standard and binding on all institutions. It was also responsible for political education in all institutions. In consultation with the State Planning Commission, which co-ordinatedthe manpowerneeds of all minis- tries, it decided on the enrolmentquotas for each specializationeach year,andtheallocationofgraduatingstudentstopoststhroughoutthe system. It controlled the appointmentof the leadershipof all higher institutions and regulatedthe recruitmentand promotion of staff.

Three devices for the control of knowledgewere designatedas the responsibility of the Ministry of Education in the 1963 Decision outlined above: the teaching plan, the teaching outline and the textbook. The teaching plan for each specialization included four points: the purpose of formation in that specialization, the organiza- tion of time, the structuringof the various requiredcourses and the arrangementof the teaching environment.5lThe teaching outline ordered the knowledge content of each course, arrangingthe subject materialto be transmittedaccordingto the structureof the discipline and accordingto Marxist-Leninisttheory.52It included a statementof aims and requirementsfor the course,a list of the importantcontent areasin appropriateorder,a list of basic referencetexts and teaching

guidelines. It was the responsibility of the Ministry of Education to maintain the high standardsof the teachingplan, teachingoutline and textbook, and ensure that the latest scientific findingswere incorpor- ated into them.

Teacherswere merely the transmittersof authoritativeknowledge determinedelsewhere.They themselves were organizedaccordingto even more narrowly defined categories than students, as each specialization had several teaching and researchgroups responsible for differentlevels and types of courseswithin the teachingplan. The researchcarriedout by these groupswas limited to investigationinto methods for transmittingauthoritativelydefined knowledge as effec-

tively as possible.

After a period of debateand conflict,all higherinstitutionswere closed from 1967 to 1970, and students travelled throughout the country making revolution and learning from the experience of workersand peasants

National bureaus which had been responsible for the planning and dissemination of standardteaching plans, outlines and textbooks for each specializa- tion throughout the country were abolished. All the old textbooks were criticized for their theoreticalformalityand narrowspecializa- tion, and either discardedor radicallyaltered.Three-in-onecommit- tees made up of students, teachers and worker-peasant-soldier representatives took responsibility both for the administration of higher institutions at all levels and for the creation of new teaching materials which should reflect local needs. Thus, both teachers and students gained remarkablecontrol over the selection, organization, pacing and timing of the knowledgetransmittedin the pedagogical process. Worker-peasant-soldierepresentativeson these committees ensured strong links between academic and real life knowledge.59In rhetoric at least, a total transformationof the structureand organiza- tion of knowledgeoccurred.

In 1979 the 1963 "Decision on unifying management in higher

education" was affirmed by the Central Committee as correct and

once again the Ministryof Educationwas given the role of regulating

nationallystandardteachingplans,teachingoutlinesandtextbooks.7 The introductionof new knowledgelinked to modernizationrequire-

mentswasachievedbythesimpleexpedientofaddingnewspecializa- tions. The total number of specializationsgrew from 601 to 1965 to

1,039in 198078inaprocessregulatedbytwodepartmentsofhigher education within the Ministry of Education. While it administered only 38 higher institutions directly, it made all major curricular decisions for the 226 institutions administered by other national ministriesand the 411 administeredby provinces,municipalitiesand autonomous regions.79

The Sixty Articles were also revived and circulatedfor discussion among higher institutions. After minor modifications they were acceptedby the Ministryof Educationas the correctguidelinesfor the development of the higher education system. These modifications contain within them some of the seeds of greaterchangesto come. The most significant one is that universities are to be centres of teaching and research, not only of teaching. Intellectuals are to be regardedas part of the workingclass which indicates greaterfreedom

for them than the mere guarantee of free academic debate in the earlier version. University presidents are to have greater powers, though the Party Committee's supervisory role remains important, and finallypolitical education is redefinedin a more open way.80

In the "Decision on the reformof the educationsystem"adoptedby a National EducationConferencein May of 1985, higherinstitutions are envisaged as having two main responsibilities:trainingadvanced

specialized personnel and developing science, technologyand culture. The main rationale for reformgiven in the decision is "to changethe management system of excessive government control of the institu- tions of higher education, expand decision-makingin the institutions under the guidance of unified educational policies and plans of the state, strengthenthe connection of the institutions of highereducation with production organizations,scientific researchorganizationsand 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."81

Furthermore,higher institutions can now participatein the defini-

tion of knowledge, as indicated in the new powers given to them:

"power to readjustthe objectives of various disciplines, formulate

teaching plans and programmes, and compile and select teaching

materials;thepowerto acceptprojectsfromandco-operatewithother social establishmentsfor scientific researchand technologicaldevel-

opment, as well as setting up combines involving teaching, scientific researchand production;the power to recommendappointmentsand removals,to disposeof capitalconstructioninvestmentandoffunds allocated by the state; and the power to develop international educational and academic exchangesby using their own funds."85

These remarkable new powers are hedged around only by the affirmationof the role of the Ministry of Education in giving overall guidance to the system.