Zhang Ming, a fellow of the JMSC’s China Media Project (CMP) and a political science professor at Renmin University, has written an article about how bureaucracy is holding back university education in China.

Zhang Ming

The article was first published in the Southern Metropolis Daily. It was translated from Chinese by CMP Research Associate, David Bandurski, and republished in the South China Morning Post on Friday 7, 2011.

The article looks at the case of the South University of Science and Technology (SUST), a brand new university in Shenzhen that is waiting for government approval to open. After three years of preparation, the university is ready to start teaching, has students enrolled, professors employed and even a president in place. However, it is not licensed to award degrees because permission to do so needs to be given by the Ministry of Education, which is holding back.

“This is the legacy of state economic planning, and an awkward distinction the mainland has from higher education in the rest of the world,” wrote Zhang.

“Economic reforms have gone ahead for 30 years and, in most sectors of our economy, people clamour to be part of the market economy. Not so in higher education here. Nearly all aspects of it are subject to approval and planning by the ministry – administrative evaluations, undergraduate evaluations, research student evaluations, facility evaluations. Even the design of degree programmes, procedures for student recruitment, postgraduate admissions standards (for national examinations) and postgraduate examination papers are set or approved by the ministry.”

Zhang stated in the article that this bureaucracy is making China’s university education system weak and is impeding China’s development.

“What we need is serious reform, an institutional rethink of how higher education operates on the mainland,” he wrote. “On the surface, the obstacles reform has run up against in China are ideological in nature. But in fact they all have to do with resistance from vested interests. Our education sector today is ripe with opportunities for special interests to line their pockets. So long as the system remains in place, these opportunities will abound.”

“A prolific columnist, Zhang Ming often writes in Chinese media about the problems facing higher education in China, and with a boldness that might surprise many outside China,” said David Bandurski, CMP Research Associate.

Professor Zhang Ming is an expert on the history of political systems and rural politics in China. He is also well known for his commentaries for various Chinese media, and as an active blogger.

Articles written by fellows of the China Media Project and translated by Bandurski are published regularly in the SCMP.

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