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Reviewed by:
  • Higher Education in China
  • Harold Swindall (bio)
Zhou Ji . Higher Education in China. Singapore: Thomson Learning Asia, 2006. xvi, 295 pp. Hardcover $29.95, ISBN 981–254–364–3.

This volume by China's education minister is useful more as a guide to how the country wishes to project itself abroad than as an objective study of where Chinese education actually stands, although there are significant statistics and revelations in it. A major feature throughout is Zhou's platitudes about the glorious objectives of Chinese higher education, which are inconsistent with both its actual character and that of the government that employs him. On the first page, we read that China's 1.3 billion "can emerge as a dynamic pool of human and intellectual resources if they become well-educated men and women of character; otherwise, they can end up being an unwieldy population burden," which is, of course, what they already are. Like most Chinese official utterances, Zhou's is inadvertently amusing, at least if one temporarily forgets other things the Chinese government does. The book's style makes it highly apparent that Chinese education is getting trendier, as the text is heavily laced with terms like "all-round," "multi-disciplinary," "grooming high-caliber talent," "international trends," and so forth to describe the post-Mao vogue. Although the term "multicultural" is conspicuous by its absence, the chapter on minority students is full of surprises.

The first chapter addresses the "metamorphosis" of Chinese higher education, but whether this is the right word is questionable. Given the country's indigenous tradition of higher education and its subsequent reforms under Western, republican, and Soviet influences, "mutations" might be better. Zhou acknowledges the definitive influence of the imperial civil service exam at all levels of Chinese education, but does not discuss the stranglehold its descendent, the university entrance exam, maintains on education systems throughout the orient. Nor does he refer to the comparatively easy graduation policies of East Asian universities, which are a major nuisance to real learning in that region. As far as this reviewer knows, no one has ever devoted a volume expressly to such peculiarities in oriental education, although Suzanne Pepper and Ruth Hayhoe have contributed insights. The chapter also presents a breakdown of contemporary higher education's major aspects, such as fields of study, degrees awarded, geographical distribution and legislation, all illustrated with charts and graphs. Undergraduate, graduate, and vocational higher education and their administration are all given attention, as are online education research resources such as CERNET and CALIS.

Chapter 2 opens with the important admission that the centralized higher education imposed in the 1950s became noticeably inadequate for supplying talent after "economic restructuring and social progress" several decades later. This fact has been well documented and is scarcely deniable, but Zhou even specifies that [End Page 608] "its major problems were rigid control by a government that was running things virtually all by itself, lack of public participation, administrative barriers resulting from inflexible departmental and regional boundaries, redundancy of look-alike colleges, monotonous curricula, and a serious waste of resources" (pp. 51–52). This is, of course, a huge understatement, but it heralds a new consciousness in Chinese government policy of which this book is an example. There is an exposition of new higher education administration policy, which is drastically decentralized and includes participation from people in many professions. The statistics on private higher education, though it still suffers many restrictions in China, are up: the number of private universities and colleges has increased tenfold over the past decade, and the number of students attending them by one hundredfold. The number that can grant accredited degrees is also ten times higher than just five years ago. The Chinese government created more new private education legislation in 2004 (it has periodically relegislated this area for a couple of decades), and is encouraging joint ventures and other cooperation with foreign schools. In both public and private higher education, everything, from departmental organization, personnel, and staff systems to promotions and salaries, has been overhauled. Zhou also informs us at the end of an overlong sentence that professors are encouraged away from "motivation with money to the promotion...


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