Over the last decade, China has been on the fast track to creating universities that will rank as world-class centers of education and seats of higher learning.
Peking University is poised to be a first class university along the lines of Harvard, Oxford and Cambridge on this side of the hemisphere. The university will soon have a new teaching hospital, an economics department, and an Executive MBA wing. An English language school will also soon commence. Peking University is the realization of a long ambition for Ivy League methods of schooling in China.
China has long nurtured the goal of qualitative change in its educational institutions. However, what catches one’s interest is the immense proportions on which the educational landmarks are being planned. China’s intended educational vision is that the students coming out of such premier portals will represent China’s new workforce in the near future. Such vision indicates that China now wants to move up the value chain of the world economy.
China wants its future workforce to be driving the value chain, much as how Japan had done in the decades after the Second World War, and continues to do so today. However, the model China is trying to emulate is based more on the recent success story of Taiwan. The 1990s saw Taiwan go from assembling electronic gadgets to being the driving force behind designing, manufacturing and supplying of popular electronic gadgets and devices used in global markets. China has analyzed Taiwanese footprints in bringing in a greater value education by introducing qualitative education with emphasis on modern methodologies, and it is now incorporating this successful model into its own educational vision.
The point of emphasis here is that these expansion plans for frontier education are massive. What may not be so obvious to the outside world is that these new plans are going to redefine higher education trends in the near future. Take, for example, the potential direct impact on UK universities. Presently there are more than 50,000 students from China, studying at British universities. Each of these students is important to the British economy, as they contribute substantially to the dwindling income of these hallowed universities. However, these substantial numbers are set to drop as China’s birth control efforts are finally paying dividends. With the one-child policy, not only has population growth dropped drastically, but so have the number of students signing up for higher education at UK universities this year. The result is that the esteemed Universities in Oxford and Cambridge are heading towards further ‘cash crunch’.
In the next decade, China is set on the path to increasing the number of foreign students attending its universities to a whopping 150,000, making it one of the largest education providers on this side of the hemisphere. The vision is for China Universities to be as important to potential global students as a Harvard MBA program. What China is doing is creating an education hotspot. It is attracting the best minds in universities across the world, particularly British professors, researchers, and chairpersons, with attractive salaries of up to sixteen thousand pounds a month, along with opportunities for research with cutting-edge infrastructural universities. The starting point will be the world class Hong Kong University, then to spread outwards to other universities in Shenzhen, Beijing and soon Shanghai.
The faculties that China will be focusing on are core subjects such as higher engineering, research, science, pharmaceuticals and technology. To China, these will be the sectors from which hundreds of thousands of its workforces will be coming from, and they will lay the foundation of a markedly different economy. This will translate into high net-worth industries similar to what has been happening in capitalist economies in the west.
Aiding China’s great march towards higher education are entrepreneurs like Will Vanbergen, from British Education Ltd., who began his company to help talented and skilled Chinese find the right higher education universities in England such as Eton, his alma mater. He has defined how education is the root to decreasing the gap between China and the western world. As some of the students he assisted have said, he and his organization are the bridge for most Chinese who are ignorant of the exam levels and the application process in such universities.
The presence of such organizations is quickly forging the part of private players contributing to China’s plan of becoming the largest educational centre for foreign students in the world. British Education Ltd alone has forged the growth of three British universities campuses being opened in China. Qingdao College is a prime example of a typical British boarding school, developed by realtors from China, for local middle income Chinese who are unable to afford education abroad. With boarding fees at Qingdao approximating ten thousand pounds annually, it is a golden opportunity for Chinese with their deep cultural preference for quality academic education to benefit from such ventures.
However, China has an uphill task on its road to achievement. The mode it is adopting is by offering sophisticated infrastructure with academic caliber to match. In the initial phases, the foreign students will learn Chinese while being heavily subsidized by the government with scholarships. This will essentially create pro-China student groups who will drive future opinions about China, thus becoming important pivots that redefine China to the western world.
Chinese educational plans are certainly full of challenges. It is a fundamental drawback, even amongst the elite students in China, that speaking in English does not come naturally to them. Besides, Chinese stories of plagiarism are infamous and it will take years of original thought development before the world accepts Chinese credentials. Moreover, the poor quality of teachers at the schools is a definite image hindrance, as poor teaching skills translate into poor student growth and this affects higher education. The current education system does not encourage independent thinking, and there is as yet too much rote learning in the system.
Unless China can overcome the limiting educational policies at the grass root level, the superior quality of higher education will not reach the common student. For domestic students to break into the mould of international education, the education system at the secondary and lower levels needs a revamp. Improving independent thinking at secondary level will translate into free thinking individuals at the echelons of the frontiers of science, technology, pharmaceuticals and engineering. Attracting foreign students for higher education and dreaming of a Princeton and an Oxford in Beijing and Shanghai are definitely commendable visions for China’s educational policy makers. However, approaching this dream by overcoming the inherent flaws is the only way forward.
At the bottom of these educationally expansive dreams is the underlying principle of Confucian thought – namely, that education and knowledge empowers. China is on the right track to redefine its role in the global scenario. Riding high on the dream of a world class Peking University is motivating and definitely a reverse brain drain is now happening as more and more Chinese are finally packing their bags to return to premier universities right here in their hometowns.
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