CYOL Survey: China Lacks World-Class University

Below is a translation of this recent article from China Youth Online. The article discusses a recent survey on the topic China’s university education system. The survey was conducted in response to Quacquarelli Symonds’ recent 2010 ranking of Asia’s top 200 universities.


The World News Report reported on May 18 that Britain’s Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), a company specializing in education and study abroad, had just released its ranking of Asia’s top 200 universities. Of the top 200, both BeiDa and Qinghua failed to get into the top 10. At the same time, these two universities have been crowned by some media outlets as “second-class universities”.

Students at BeiDa

Since 1998, when BeiDa celebrated its 100th anniversary, there has been no lack of discussion domestically regarding [this issue]. Not long after [the QS ranking was published], Xu Zhihong, scholar at BeiDa’s Chinese Academy of Sciences was quoted saying, “Presently, China has no world-class universities”.

How far apart do Chinese universities stand from world-class ones? Over the past few days, China Youth Online’s Survey Center polling of 4,488 China Public Opinion Network and Tencent [netizens] reveals that 58.8% believe that China lacks a world-class university, 18.8% believe China does have world-class universities, and 21.6% were unable to make a fair judgment. Of the respondents, 25.9% were enrolled at a key university, 45.4% enrolled under a regular Bachelors Degree program, and 18.4% enrolled in a top-level university.

At a Henan province teacher’s college […] most first-year students begin with a good first impression of their school. “The campus environment is very clean, and the facilities are excellent. The classroom buildings and dormitories are all brand new,” says Zhao Jie, a local student. However, since she started her classes, Zhao Jie has only become more and more depressed as time has gone on. “Many teachers [do their jobs] half-heartedly, they rarely interact with us. They don’t have any personal charm or charisma […] My classmates are drowsy in class, and often fall asleep en masse. We’ve gradually stopped going to class as we feel it’s a waste of our time. We’re better off finding an internship.”

“Some teachers are too occupied with finding money-making opportunities [outside of school]. [As a result], they don’t seriously pursue [continuing education in] their field of expertise […] Many students get together and compare the salaries of their internships. They’re too concerned with how much money they’ll make in the future, and very few put any heart at all into their studies,” said Renmin University of China student Tu Lingbo. “The impetuous and rash spirit of the whole of society and utilitarianism has long spread into [the university system].”

75.0% Believe utilitarianism is domestic universities’ most serious problem.

Yang Deguang, former headmaster at Shanghai Teacher’s College, and current Vice President of China’s Committee on Higher Education, was recently interviewed by China Youth Online. During the interview, Yang explained the government’s absolute administrative rule over the university system. [According to Yang,] the Communist Party has absolute authority over the management, economics and evaluation of schools, nominating school administrators, assigning budgets and expenditures, opening classes, and conferring degrees [….]

BeiDa (Beijing University)

The survey also revealed that 72.2% of respondents believe that higher education’s [bias to Party political lines] is obvious. These respondents believed this to be the university education system’s second biggest problem.

Other problems university students feel exist are: ignoring the implementation of well-rounded education focused on building character (70.9%), plagiarism and other acts of academic dishonesty (61.0%), lacking creative genius (55.8%), lack of academic standards (53.2%), shortage of top-quality educators (50.2%), and management transparency (48.6%).

In the eyes of the public, what are the standards for a world-class university? The survey revealed the following: 71.4% of respondents say a cultural environment of independent thinking, 70.2% say a [system which] fosters a fondness of looking forward to [improving] one’s society, 61.5% chose teachers with a high level of character, and 53.8% say producing prominent intellectuals.

Yang Deguang believes that the current plan for education reform and development [can be affective]. [He says it] embodies the government’s attempt to encourage institutions of higher education to develop an approach to running schools where independent thinking is promoted. The key to this is continuing to oversee the reforms implementation [….]

Qinghua University

How can the university education system be improved? Survey respondents: 69.9% believe that universities should concentrate on providing well-rounded education that builds character, 61.5% believe a great emphasis should be paid to university culture, 58.8% supported removing current university administrators, 36.2% say that schools should focus on attracting talent from across the world, 36.3% support the establishment of a university council, 32.7% believe an increase in funding, 20.5% say universities should improve their facilities.

[Finally], the survey also asked the public what they believe university students should get out of their education. First is the ability to think independently (78.2%). Second, learning fundamentals (58.1%). Third, knowledge specific to their major (54.6%). Other important traits to be learned include: building strong character (49.2%), the ability to live on one’s own (36.9%), professionalism (37.0%), meet friends (22.1%), earning a degree (14.8%), and prospects for a good future (14.8%).

0 thoughts on “CYOL Survey: China Lacks World-Class University”

  1. Thank you for this K.E. all oh so true, but I am surprised that one Confucian aspect is not examined. The respect for age, while good, leads to young professors having few chances to rise in departments and the holding onto department chairs by some truly way beyond retirement. Maybe this has been reformed already or is tied up into the State political and financial management of Universities, but many of the old profs are truly out of date in their own fields and are due to historical circumstances very adept at playing politics.


  2. DUH! China’s schools will NEVER become top 10. Just look at the way people get into them. one test does not tell a whole person. The tests don’t recognizes creativity and character. Those who do good in the test might not be smart. They either had the money to bribe for answers or just have pure luck. Those entry exams are destroying kids’ lives! All they know is to copy and repeat. They are nothing but little computers without the creativity that’s on it. When you look a the admission process for Harvard and Yale, if you only have good test scores and grades but nothing else, don’t even bother applying because they will deny you.


  3. I met my wife while I was working at her university. To add to something Terry noted briefly, she said that in her department, there was only one teacher who got their position without using their personal connections to obtain it, and that she had to work extremely hard to make sure she got that position.

    Perhaps corruption from within is a major reason for the endemic problems in Chinese universities that tends to be a leading factor in causing those other problems. Like lackadaisical teaching or a lack of academic standards.


  4. @josh

    Not to refute what you say but allot of good positions are obtained thru “guanxi”. I wish credentials and experience alone could pay off but in the end it comes down to who you know and how they can get you to where you would like to be. As for that 1 teacher that got hers the right way, good for her. In that type of environment I hope she didn’t have to do a job that was out of her job description to get there .


  5. After graduating from Berkeley in the late 1990s, I earned an MA from PKU. I then returned to the U.S., where I earned another MA. I’m now finishing a PhD. While I enjoyed my experience at PKU, it was a much better life experience than an academic one. In fact, it was pretty much a joke. I learned a lot, but only because I’m very self-motivated and made excellent use of my time and the resources available to me. My courses were a waste of time and a sorry disappointment. My professors were largely tame and incurious – at least relative to their U.S. counterparts.

    I’ve spent the last 7 months a PKU and not much has changed. In the fall, a list of the top global universities was published by some group, and PKU ranked number 51 (Tsinghua was number 49, I believe). I remember saying to a Chinese friend, “I bet I can think of 100 research universities in the U.S. that are better than PKU. This list is crap.” He didn’t disagree.

    Until there exists real institutional freedom at Chinese universities – and until department heads care more about producing good research than pleasing BMW-driving bureaucrats – they will remain second (third!) rate. The best Chinese students are bright and eager to learn, but they are very poorly served by the universities they attend.


  6. We shouldn’t forget one of the major culprits, and that is chinese culture itself. In so many ways, the education system in China is modeled on it, including discouraging independent thinking, dependence on relationships for teachers to get it, and lack of opportunities for young teachers.


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  8. Sad but true. And that’s majorly one of the most important reasons why more and more elite high school graduates are trying to apply for foreign universities, instead of going to so-called “first-class” domestic ones, such like PKU and Qsinghua University.


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