2004. J.C. Smart (ed.), Higher Education: Handbook of Theory and Research, Vol. XIX, 311–374.

{Yang Rui, 2004}

The lack of central government from 1911 to 1927 provided Chinese higher education with the possibility of vigorous experimentation. The period, as Hayhoe argues (1996, p. 43), saw the first real effort to establish a “university” in the sense of the defining values of autonomy and academic freedom. Within the period, a tremendous range of new higher education institutions also developed and flourished. Different strands of China’s own evolving traditions linked up with various foreign influences, with America replacing Japan as the most favored source of influence. Chinese scholars who returned from Western countries and Japan played a key role in the development of higher education. Educational thought gradually matured, with eclectic foreign influences, particularly from America and Europe.

The Japanese invasion in 1937 inflicted heavy losses on China’s higher education. By 1936, China had had 108 higher education institutions, of which 91 were damaged significantly from July 1937 to August 1938. Students decreased to 25.6 percent from 41,922 in 1936 to 31,188 during 1937. With constant bombing by Japanese fighters, many institutions could not maintain order. They were forced to move to remote mountaineous districts, and sustained great losses of finance, personnel and library collections.

Nevertheless, in the regions that were not occupied by the Japanese troops, higher education even grew during these years. By the end of the Anti-Japanese War (1937–45), there were 141 higher institutions, with an enrollment of 83,498 students. The development during this period was much imbalanced among disciplines, with the biggest growth in education and commerce. The numbers of students in natural and social sciences dropped dramatically.

From 1912 to 1949, the university continued to go through a process of adaptation and indigenization that might be compared to the development of American universities in the 19th century. During this period, the Chinese university developed into a mature institution, which achieved a balance between its Chinese identity and its ability to link up to a world community of universities.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) came into power and founded the PRC in October 1949. Western policies to isolate the newborn commu- nist China led to the leaning to the Soviet Union. The first national higher education conference held in June 1950 demanded attention be paid to the socialist Soviet model, the dominant slogan in China until the mid-1950s was “learn from the Soviet Union.” Mao Ze-dong announced in the summer of 1949 that the CCP must “lean to one side” (Mao, 1991, pp. 472–473). Russians replaced departing Americans and Europeans, some 700 Soviet “experts” serving in Chinese higher learning institutions in the early 1950s. From 1952, the Chinese higher education system simulated Soviet administration, teaching methods, textbooks, and even classroom design. The experience of other countries, especially those of the West, was rejected.

Based on Russian experience and advice, the First Five-Year Plan (1953–1957) focused on the development of heavy industry. Plans to reform institutions of higher education so as to emphasize technical education were finalized in 1951 (People’s Daily, September 24, 1952, p. 2). To ensure that the restructured system performed the function intended, it was rein- forced within unified sets of plans for student enrollment, job assignment, and curriculum content.

The Eighth National CCP Congress in 1956 again emphasized the role of higher education in national reconstruction. It required universities and colleges to absorb the latest technology developments in the world and send teachers and students abroad for study. This conference, however, was followed by an assessment of educational achievement since the founding of the PRC, which concluded that (in the context of the Cold War) higher education should be geared to the tit-for-tat struggle between classes and lines (socialism and capitalism). Bourgeois educational views were bitterly criticized (Schram, 1974). From the Great Leap Forward (1958–1966) to the end of the 1970s, expertise was not given a wide edge over political understanding.

Whichever way one looks at the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966–76), with hindsight it must be seen as a terribly costly failure, per- haps partly because of its passionate rejection of foreign influence. Higher education was devastated along with the fortunes of a generation of teach- ers and students. Institutional administration was paralyzed and classes suspended. Maoists eliminated age limits and entrance examinations for universities and colleges, reduced the number of school years needed for graduation, and eliminated the examination-based grading system. As time passed, it became increasingly obvious that this egalitarian approach to education would not produce the high-quality technicians and scientists China needed for its modernization program. The closing down of universities for some years in that period also left a gap in the educated class that is still proving to be a handicap in China’s efforts to modernize.

When Deng Xiao-ping and the “pragmatist” faction reversed Maoist policies in late 1976 and set China on a more rational, economic-oriented path to modernization, one of the first tasks undertaken was restoration of the educational system (Reed, 1988). Although Deng’s reform agenda was officially inaugurated at the Third Plenum of the Eleventh Central Committee held in December 1978, changes in the education sector had preceded it. By that time, almost all the decisions necessary to recreate the regular education system in its pre-1966 state had already been announced, and implementation was well under way (Pepper, 1990). Entrance exami- nations to colleges and universities were re-introduced, and professional standards and expertise were made respectable again. These post-Maoist changes in educational policy saw the re-emergence of the old “regular” system with its residues of foreign models (Hayhoe, 1984).

The Chinese higher education system has long been highly central- ized, with education provided by the central and local governments, respectively, under their direct administration. It has been viewed as a dis- advantage of the system that the state undertook too much responsibility and the schools lacked flexibility and autonomy to provide education according to societal needs. The central departments and local govern- ments provided education separately. The structure of education was seg- mented with overlapped disciplines and very low efficiency of institutional operation. Therefore, structural reform has been the core of China’s higher education reforms in recent decades.

At the same time, in line with international practice, significant progress in implementing the reform agenda is also seen in other aspects of the higher education sector. The costs of higher education are increasingly shared with students and families via tuition and fees. Means-tested grants and student loans are now available, and are on the Chinese higher educa- tion policy agenda. Private sector institutions continue to grow where they are not prohibited by the law. Cost-effective, market-responsive learning is widely occurring in most institutions. The financing of universities is taking into account measurable output indicators, and the government is devolving expenditure authority to the universities, and entrepreneurship is growing fast within every university at the institutional, departmental, and individual faculty levels.

The reform and development of higher education in the last two decades has resulted in significant achievements. A higher education sys- tem which encompasses basically all branches of learning, combines both degree and non-degree education and integrates diploma, undergraduate

During the initial stage of the PRC, full-scale reconstruction was under way. Based on socialist public ownership and the development goals of a planned economy, the Chinese communist government took over both public and private institutions of higher learning from the previous Nationalist government, as well as the institutes run by foreign missionar- ies. Meanwhile, the then Soviet style was modeled as a basis for China’s nationwide higher education reorganization. Chinese higher education grew rapidly thereafter, especially from 1955 to 1957.

First, the communist government took over all 205 higher learning institutions left over by the governments at various levels under the Nationalist Party (124), private agencies (61) and foreign missionaries (20) (Ministry of Education 1979, p. 42). The new government saw the remold- ing of foreign missionary institutions as an integral part of its political campaign to resist imperialistic cultural invasion. It was reiterated clearly by Ma Xu-lun, the then Minister for Education, that foreigners were not allowed to run schools in China. In this regard, it is interesting to see how the Chinese government later welcomed foreign participation in providing education after a few decades of administration, as shown later in this chapter. While the change of political power was violent, regular opera- tion of colleges and universities was maintained with remarkable little disruption.

In consideration of the fact that foreign missionaries had substantially reduced providing funds, the then Government Administration Council decided to transfer all missionary institutions to public ownership on December 29, 1950. By 1950, the communist government had taken over 20 foreign missionary institutions, of which 17 were American, with 14,536 students, 3,491 teaching and administrative staff, and 1943 security guards. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Education issued Provisional Regulations of Private Higher Institutions Administration (Sili Gaodeng Xuexiao Zanxing Tiaoli) and began

to subsidize private post-secondary institutions (Yu, 1994, pp. 15–16). While these changes were evidently due to political considerations, higher learning institutions became much more accessible to some of the Chinese population with middle, lower middle and working class origins.

Second, the Chinese government realized that there was a huge gap between the industrialization demand for highly skilled and educated workers and the actual supply generated by those left over institutions from the previous government which were the small-scale, single-leveled with imbalanced foci on arts, humanities and social science.6 A campaign of remolding the “old” education began. The restructuring of higher education institutions was a major event aiming at the needs of national construction. As the Minister of Education pointed out, the fragmented political and economic situation was reflected in higher education, which was in an extremely anarchic state, with each government department operating in its own way (People’s Daily, June 14, 1950, p. 1). Thus, a nation- ally united and centralized leadership needed to be gradually established.

Higher education must be geared to the need of national construction. The existing system should be strengthened and adjusted adequately and gradually, or new departments need to be created. Such work starts from North and East China regions. (He, 1998, pp. 92–93)

With a view to meeting the needs of economic construction, steps were taken gradually to strengthen and readjust the departments and col- leges within higher education institutions. The departments of the engi- neering colleges were the first to be readjusted, and new departments added. As early as the end of 1949, the central government and various administrative regions searched into ways of achieving the proposed adjustment, and conducted some experiments. In November 1951 a national conference of the presidents of engineering colleges discussed the first draft of a national higher education adjustment. According to the confer- ence, the major problems of the national distribution of engineering colleges were: an imbalance in terms of geographical distribution; a dis- persion of teachers and facilities which led to uneconomical practices; impractical programs that failed to train specialized personnel; and

The plan to universalize higher education within 15 years drove China’s higher education into its own great leap forward. Higher educa- tion institutions increased from 229 in 1957 to 1289 in 1960. New enroll- ments grew from 105,000 to 323,000. The total number of students in higher education increased rapidly from 440,000 to 960,000 (Yu, 1994, p. 63). In fact, the year 1958 witnessed the birth of two institutions every three days. For several years consecutively, higher education recruited more students than secondary school graduates, as shown in Table 8.1.

By early 1961, the Chinese government realized the necessity to put a brake on this rapid expansion. On June 6, 1961, when commenting on the adjustment of higher education institutions and upper-level specialized colleges in Beijing, the Ministry of Education pointed out:

It took China a few years to bring order out of the chaos caused by the impact of the Great Leap Forward on higher education. By the 1964–65 aca- demic year, the national situation had largely returned to normal. China’s economy had also overridden great difficulties: the GDP began to climb again with increase rates of 10.2, 18.3, and 17 percent, respectively in 1963, 1964, and 1965. This was the time when people began to forecast another fast growth both in the economy and in higher education. What followed was the Cultural Revolution, a disastrous man-made calamity, whose impact still lingers on today.

During the early 1970s, spare-time higher education institutions grew fast from 127 in 1972 to 13,436 in 1976 with a student intake of 1,300,000. Though the quality of students and teaching in both regular and spare- time higher education institutions was extremely questionable (Shanghai Higher Education Research Institute, 1989, p. 23), this was part of the recent history of Chinese higher education. Considering this, WPSS are treated the same as other university students in the above figure in order to delineate an overall picture of China’s higher education development in the past half century.

Deng Xiao-ping started his regulation of education immediately after the Cultural Revolution. In August 1977, Deng said at a national symposium of science and education that “this year we should make a resolution to recruit university students directly from senior secondary graduates. . . . Such direct recruitment in my view is a good way to turn out talents and produce results” (National Education Research Institute, 1984, p. 499).

On October 12, 1977, the State Council and the Ministry of Education issued two policy documents respectively concerning the recruitment of undergraduate and graduate students. In the winter of 1977, some 5,700,000 candidates sat for higher education entrance examinations, with 273,000 being admitted. Candidates increased to 6,100,000 in 1978, with 402,000 actually enrolled, which was another peak year in history (National Education Research Institute, 1984, p. 519).

Over the period, China’s higher education grew accordingly. Students in regular and adult higher learning institutions and in examination- based self-study higher education increased six times from 1,320,000 to 9,530,000, with an average annual rate of 9.9 percent. Higher education enrollment ratios increased from 1.56 percent in 1978 to 11.2 percent in 1999. By 1999, the ratio of students in higher education to those in secondary schools was 1 : 7. This has been termed as the “pre-mass” stage between the extreme elite and mass higher education (Knowles, 1978, pp. 2770–2773).

In the late 1970s, the Chinese government realized the widening gap between the increasing societal demand for higher education and its limited financial capacity to provide sufficient funding for such education. One way to solve this problem was to further build up radio and television universities. For this purpose specifically, China bought a communica- tion satellite in 1978. By 1997, China had established a national television higher education system, with the CBTVU at the top and 44 institutions at provincial level, 831 branches at prefectural level, and 1,699 branches at county level.