“In April we will launch a China-EU platform on higher education, together with the European Commission’s DG EAC. It will be a meeting open for all stakeholders, for university presidents and experts. The platform will focus on exchange and cooperation”, Mr. Li explains. “We need to make future cooperation closer and therefore we have to look into quality issues, joint degree programmes and joint research programmes.”
On the level of students there exists already a certain level of exchange, but as Mr. Li describes, it is often a decision made by the family that a students should go overseas. “In future we want more scholar exchange and institutional cooperation.”
Travel abroad not necessary
At the moment there are three joint ventures between China and the EU, a China-EU law school, a China-EU business school and a joint venture on the topic of clean energy. Mr. Li: “Our students benefit from this, they spend less money because they don’t have to travel overseas to be in a European or American university.”
As Minister-Counsellor and Head of the Education and Culture Office of the China Mission to the EU, Mr. Jianmin Li works often with the European Institutions. Which EU does he find of interest to China? “The Bologna process, Erasmus Mundus, these policies are also beneficial to China. It is interesting that in the education area, the EU has no legislative power and works with issue guidance for universities. Still the Bologna process has been very successful, it made Europe much stronger and allows the EU to compete with Canada and the U.S.”
The newest project: 1148
Contrary to policies in the EU, the Chinese government gives policies meaningful numbers as names. In the area of education there is ‘Project 211’ aimed at strengthening 100 HE institutions with a view to foster China’s social and economic development. The runner up to ‘Project 211’ is ‘Project 985’ which aims at funding a select number of institutions to achieve ‘international advanced level’.
Currently China is rolling out ‘Project 1148’, the Chinese parallel to the popular concept of a ‘triple helix’, a model in which universities collaborate with enterprises, research institutes and governments. “Any university can apply for this programme, as long as they found relevant partners.”
Evaluating academic degrees
“In fact there are different goals set for different universities”, Mr. Li explains. “We have quality assessment schemes to measure whether the research results justify the funding of particular institutions. We look also at how many famous professor a university produces, professors that afterward enter the National Academy of Science or Social Science. Unfortunately we have no Nobel laureates yet.”
Quality assessment has played an important role in Mr. Jianmin Li’s career as he used to work at the Chinese Government body that evaluates academic degrees. “Every five years we used to have a review on the quality in a particular disciplinary area. And when a university decides to offer a new course – nowadays universities have more and more autonomy on the topics they teach – it has to apply to this Academic Degree Committee. If a university passes the evaluation, it can subsequently apply for master- an PhD-level students.”
The Chinese evaluation works with yellow and red cards. A yellow card meaning that the institution has to redo it’s homework and improve the quality of the course. A red card means that the university has to cancel the course, but can re-apply inn five years’ time. Mr. Li: “In 1986 we first tried out the review process and it became a normal process as of 1995.”
Pioneer in higher education reform
A special case is Huazhong University of Science and Technology, “a pioneer in higher education reform”, says Mr. Li. The university has a total of 35.000 students and another 15.000 staff. “In the 70’s and 80’s the leadership of Huazhong University broke a lot of the old regulations and sent a lot of students abroad. New academic disciplines were constructed and talent was cultivated.” The unorthodox University President of that day became Education Minister later.
Sometimes the Chinese HE-system is criticized for lack of autonomy, but as far as academic autonomy is concerned Mr. Li thinks this is no longer the case. “Except for the government funding where universities have to follow the funding rules. And we have a higher education entrance exam for high school graduates. Because of the scale of the countries, universities cannot decide how much students they recruit.”
A small percentage of student places is paid for by enterprises, especially in the field of engineering. Business fund a certain amount of places at the university, the students have to sign an agreement by which they commit to working five years in that company after their graduation.
Set up your own research group
Part of the bigger strategy to attract talent is China’s 1000-talent programme. This programme is not managed by the Ministry of Education but is Chefsache, run by a group of 18 Ministers. In essence it is a call-back programme to get the best and the brightest Chinese researchers abroad back to China. Once selected for the honorable 1000-talent programme, the researcher immediately receives 1 million RMB tax free (approximately € 120.000) for living expenses and a further 10 million RMB to set up a research team.
“If you’re selected in this programme you can recruit anyone you like, you can even bring your colleagues from overseas. With the funding you can form a team of 5 to 10 people in China”, Mr. Li elaborates. At this moment 2793 people are selected and we’ve seen the first positive results coming out of the research groups, for instance in the field of supramolecular semiconductors.”