Does China Have a World Class University

Does China Have a World Class
Rui Yang
Anthony Welch
Current Benchmarks, Future Plans
• According to Xu Zhihong, “China doesn’t have world-first-class
universities at the moment.”
• For such an institution, 3 benchmarks are needed: intn’lly.
renowned Profs. doing key research; research that has had
profound impact on human civilization and social
development; and graduates that have made contributions to
human civilization.
• Even so, China has selected key universities for special
development and China’s Medium and Long-Term Program
for Education Reform and Development 2010-2020 includes
plans for several such universities to be “at or near world-class
• Realistic? Xu Zhihong: Creating world-class Universities takes
time, and programmes such as 985 desire ‘instant success’.
Rankings & China’s Universities
Chinese Constraints
• Is China perhaps too ambitious for immediate
results, and what effects might this have?
• “ … a lot of the mainland’s investment in science
and technology was lost to corruption. A
substantial amount of the scientific research
funds are being spent on meetings trips or buying
expensive equipment that is rarely used. Some
(Chinese scientists) even resort to stealing others’
work, or simply making up the data to get a paper
published.” (Guang, Zhongcheng, 2010)
Measuring Up: Tsinghua
• As China’s leading university, esp. in science and
technology, Tsinghua provides a good test case
for evaluating China’s bid for world-class
• Tsinghua has its own ambitions to join the top
• Although TU began life as a prep. college for
intending overseas students (to USA), and its
university status dates from 1925, its plans for its
centenary next year are already well advanced.
Tsinghua Profile
• Tsinghua University has 13 colleges and 55
departments, including since September 2006,
Peking Union Medical College, Tsinghua
• Notably alumni include notable Nobel laureates
in Yang Chen-ning and Lee Tsung-dao (Physics),
and national leaders including Hu Jintao and Zhu
• Its own strategic plans include comprehensively
lifting its overall level to world-class standards
during the coming decade (2010-2020).
Teaching (1)
• Strengthening academic disciplines has been fundamental in Tsinghua’s
• Multi-disciplinary approaches have also been fostered, since the 1980s.
• More recently, in addition to its strengths in science and technology,
Schools of Humanities and Social Sciences, Law, Public Administration, and
Journalism and Communication were successively founded. In 1999, the
Academy of Arts and Design was developed, through amalgamation of the
previous Central Academy of Arts and Design.
• Doctoral programmes now exist in philosophy, economics, law, sociology,
Marxist theory, Chinese language and literature, journalism and
communication, theory of art, management science and engineering,
business administration, and public administration.
• But much remains to be done to lift Tsinghua’s profile in social sciences
and humanities, relative to both Peking U., and certainly relative to major
overseas competitors.
Teaching (2)
• Recent innovations include freshmen seminars, senior seminars, discovery
learning, research training programs for students, undergraduate research
opportunities programs, summer undergraduate research fellowship
programs, undergraduate research apprentice programs, and research
experiences for undergraduates.
• An emphasis on post-graduate students at Tsinghua has meant a need for
more supervisors.
• In 2007, three Tsinghua professors were listed as national master teachers,
19 courses were included in a list of “national treasures,” and 11 doctoral
theses were ranked among the best nationally.
• 16 of Tsinghua’s 19 disciplines were ranked in the top five among all
Chinese universities, and eight were ranked number one, making Tsinghua
the best performer nationwide.
• On a variety of other rankings, Tsinghua’s postgraduate training has been
consistently ranked as the nation’s top, yet still falls short. 23% of Tsinghua
undergraduates reported they had never raised a question or participated
in class discussions, while 34.6% had never done a class presentation.
Research (1)
• Tsinghua has long played a key role in China’s national innovation system,
because of the quality of its research, its targeting of national strategic
needs and cultivation of strong links with government.
• President Gu Bingli (2010): “Tsinghua’s important mission (is) to
accomplish the key projects designated by our country.”
• This has included such high-tech achievements as China’s HTR-10 High
Temperature Gas-Cooled Reactor, completed as a key project of the
prestigious State 863 Plan.
• By 2009, Tsingua could boast more SCI citations than any other Chinese
• Its total of SCI-listed publications and citations increased by 85% and 135%
respectively, 2003-2006.
• BUT, although the per capita SCI and SSCI publications of Tsinghua was
1.56 during 2003-5, (far ahead of all other mainland Chinese universities),
this was still behind five universities (of 8 UGC funded institutions) in Hong
Kong, and three in Taiwan.
Research (2)
• Moreover, some studies show greater quantitative than qualitative
improvement in China overall (Mohrmann 2006, 2010; OECD 2008).
• Further, even more than its neighbours, China’s universities
contribute modestly to overall R&D; China’s H/Ed. sector
contributes only 10.5% to overall R&D, compared to 15.7% across
SE Asia, and 27.0% developed world average (ADB 2008).
• But when MIT and Tsinghua were compared, on key performance
indicators, 1995-2005, the latter’s increase over the decade looks
highly impressive.
• Tsinghua has also successfully spun off numerous successful applied
technology companies, in partnership with enterprises.
• On the social sciences front, however, achievements are much less
prominent: from 1997 to 2004, a total of 509 SSCI publications were
produced by Chinese universities. Tsinghua contributed 109, second
only to Peking University’s 264.
An Eye to The Future
A striking feature of the Chinese system is the degree of commitment by both institutions
and governments to the quest for world-class universities.
Government works closely with universities, with supportive policies and impressive levels of
investment, esp. in designated key universities.
Ranked 18th and 12th in 1992 and 1998 , China overtook Japan and the United Kingdom in
2006 to become the world’s second largest producer of research papers. Within 10 years,
China will rank No. 1.
SJTU ranking (2010): Beida and Tsinghua in top 200; Fudan, Nanjing, Shanghai Jiao Tong,
University of Science and Technology of China, and Zhejiang in top 300, Shandong, Sichuan
and Sun Yat-sen in top 400, and another 12 in top 500.
But, if academic independence is a sine qua non of academic excellence, then Tsinghua is
hampered by both its close and strategic links to govt., and the Chinese tradition, in which
zhizhu (自主) is more powerful than zhizhi (自治), which indicates greater autonomy.
China devotes only about 5% of R & D funds to basic research, cf. 10-30% in developed
In sum, China has much to contribute to the global knowledge system, and there is no doubt
that China’s universities will, over time, compete with the best. Of these, Tsinghua is bound
to be one.
University Contributions to R&D
Performance, by sector.
Higher Education
SE Asia
Developed World Average
India estimates from OECD R&D database 2007, as in Fig 1-5, World Bank 2007, p. 9.

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