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Reviewed by:
  • Higher Education Reform in China: Beyond the Expansion
  • Ruth Hayhoe (bio)
W. John Morgan and Bin Wu, editors. Higher Education Reform in China: Beyond the Expansion. New York: Routledge, 2011. 174 pp. Hardcover $128.00, ISBN 978-0-415-56413-7.

This well-rounded volume provides many important insights into issues of concern in the aftermath of China’s dramatic expansion to a mass system of higher [End Page 220] education, between 1999 and 2006. The work of fifteen authors — eight in mainland China, five in the United Kingdom, and two in Hong Kong — its ten chapters are based on detailed and up-to-date empirical studies that range between rigorous and sophisticated quantitative analyses and smaller-scale qualitative case studies. Economics is one of the core disciplines drawn upon, and there is a commitment to pursuing research questions that can inform policy and also a clear concern for issues of equity and inclusion. It is striking to see strongly critical stances taken by some of the mainland-based scholars, while overall there appears to be an effort to maintain a balance between rigorous criticism and the recognition and affirmation of the significant achievements of Chinese higher education over a decade of dramatic expansion. The volume results from a conference held at the University of Nottingham in November 2008, but it has expanded to include materials updated since then and has been organized into three major sections. These move the readers’ focus from aspects of widening the provision of higher education to expansion and its consequences, and then finally the growing global perspective.

As a scholar who has spent nearly thirty years in the study of Chinese higher education, I was refreshed to encounter many new and fascinating findings in this collection. The first chapter focuses on issues of regional imbalance and develops models that differentiate among four types of regions — high development/high potential, low development/high potential, high development/low potential, and low development/low potential, with specific policy suggestions for each type of region. Regional distribution of higher education has been an issue since the early republic, and a bit more historical background might have helped readers to grasp the complex issues presented here. It is particularly important to understand the higher education distribution principles informing the Soviet-inspired planned economy of the 1950s, when six major regions were given a relatively even distribution of all types of universities, yet there were disturbing inequalities within each region, with most national institutions being concentrated in one or two major urban centers. These centers, particularly Beijing and Shanghai, but also Wuhan, Chongqing, Changchun, and Xi’an, continue to benefit from a high concentration of universities. However, the changed funding models, described in detail in chapter 5, have enhanced the advantages of Beijing, Shanghai, and the prosperous east coast more generally while placing a huge burden on less prosperous provincial governments, such as those of Hubei and Shaanxi, which are now expected to subsidize their historic concentration of national institutions, while also having a large number of provincial-level institutions to support.

Historical context might also have shed further light on issues of the regional development of private higher education, which are described in detail in chapter 4. The point made here is that private higher education has proliferated most in more economically developed regions, with over 60 percent being found in Beijing, Shanghai, Shandong, Henan, and Shanxi. While the first three of these are [End Page 221] clearly highly developed economically, Henan is China’s largest rural province, with a population of nearly 100 million, and a relatively less developed economy. It is also a province that was severely disadvantaged in the higher education redistribution of the 1950s, with its historically strong national institutions being moved to Wuhan, in the province of Hubei, then the designated center of the Central South region. The reference to Shanxi (山西) seems intended rather for Shaanxi (陕西), the northwestern province whose capital, Xi’an, was given a large number of national universities to serve the northwest region in 1952. It, too, has a huge rural population and relatively less developed economy, in spite of the large number of top universities. So the puzzle...