China's University system is changing fast and the quality of the best students and best Universities is unrivalled. They are beginning to employ the best staff and paying good salaries.
More Universities are needed but UK Universities need to be aware of how rapidly things are changing.
My impression is the problems of red tape mentioned below are being overcome and that things are not quite as bad as they might first appear.
The long march [THES]
China is hungry for Western-style universities, not least to fuel its economy. Phil Baty reports on the efforts to uproot corruption and bureaucracy and build a dynamic and vibrant world-class system.
But higher education is at something of a crossroads. While grappling with the effects of explosive growth in quality and access, the Government has also prioritised a drive - which some describe as an "obsession" - to ensure that an elite cadre of universities joins the ranks of the world's best.
Analysts in and outside China warn that its exceptional progress to date could be stymied - and its goal to create a truly world-class system thwarted - without deep cultural reform. "One of China's great challenges is to strengthen the academic profession," says Philip Altbach, director of the Centre for International Higher Education at Boston College. "For a start, nationally only 9 per cent of China's university staff hold doctorates. Traditions of academic freedom and meritocratic norms for promotions are slow to develop. Plagiarism and other forms of corruption are frequently reported.
"For China to develop a really world-class higher education system, it will need to ensure that the human and the philosophical 'software' is as well developed as the 'hardware' of buildings and laboratories," Altbach says.
There is no doubt that the "hardware" he refers to is in place. At the creation of the People's Republic of China 60 years ago this month, higher education was "small and weak", Altbach writes in an article in the June 2009 issue of Economic and Political Weekly. In 1949, the sector had just 205 universities, and a total of only 1.16 million students. The new Communist regime looked to the Soviet model of higher education, splitting universities into smaller vocational institutions, separating teaching from research and restricting academic freedom.
According to a March 2009 report on tertiary education in China by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the number of researchers in the country increased by 77 per cent between 1995 and 2004, to a total of 926,000. By the end of 2006, China became the world's biggest investor in research and development after the US, spending some $136 billion (£85 billion). A report published earlier this month by the UK's Department for Business, Innovation and Skills confirmed that China had overtaken the UK to become the world's second-biggest producer of scientific papers (see box page 34).
For Times Higher Education contributor Hong Bing, an associate professor at the School of Journalism at Fudan University in Shanghai, the main problem is bureaucracy.
"It is true that Chinese universities have made much progress," he says. "But I think that increasing bureaucratisation is the number-one obstacle to success. Bureaucracy poses a big threat to creating a campus culture that encourages the independence of academics and the cultivation of students."
The OECD report warns: "Chinese tertiary education remains highly regulated, and this regulation is highly centralised. However, the evidence from elsewhere in the world suggests that world-class institutions enjoy a degree of autonomy that is inadequate in China. World-class universities, in particular, flourish as autonomous - albeit accountable - institutions that encourage creativity, innovation, dynamism and responsiveness to demand. In today's world, all universities that aspire to global levels of excellence need to be agile, flexible and unencumbered by bureaucratic controls in order to succeed."
"Academic corruption ... is seriously damaging China's higher education and could affect China's ambitious bid for world-class status," he says. "China has many good policies to catch up in higher education. However, many of them have been terribly affected by corruption in their implementation, costing China a huge amount of resources and time. The problem is hard to overcome because it is so related to China's way of governance, and corruption has been in China for a long time."
He said that the problem persists because universities are controlled by Government and the Chinese administrative system is based on official authority and rank.
Altbach says: "China has had a policy of insisting that any foreign involvement in higher education in the country be in collaborative arrangements with Chinese partners. This is a wise policy as it ensures that Chinese institutions will have significant participation in decision-making at all levels, and also means that Chinese academic institutions can benefit from the ideas coming into the country - and ensure, as the Chinese say, that foreign imports will have 'Chinese characteristics' and meet local needs."
There are many varieties of such collaboration, he says. One example is the Xi'an Jiaotong University/University of Liverpool collaborative campus in Suzhou, which offers entire degree programmes in English, with degrees awarded jointly from the two partners. Another is the Johns Hopkins/Nanjing University joint degree, which is perhaps the oldest collaborative programme in China. There are also, Altbach adds, many smaller ones.
"Typically, both partners benefit," he says. "The Chinese institution gains experience, ideas, the prestige of a foreign link and added capacity. The overseas institution gets access to the Chinese market, perhaps earning profits from the arrangement, and establishes its 'brand name' in China's huge higher education marketplace."
China's growing prosperity has expanded the country's middle class enormously in recent decades, and this has in turn fuelled the explosion in university enrolments, writes Hannah Fearn.
However, the reservoir of potential students will begin to shrink from 2015 as the impact of the one-child policy starts to be felt.
Research carried out by the Economist Intelligence Unit on behalf of the British Council estimates that the demand for tertiary education in China will grow until 2013, presenting Chinese institutions and international universities with a huge pool of potential students.
The report, What Does the Future Hold?, notes how enrolment has shot up with China's sustained and substantial growth in gross domestic product.
At the time of the report's publication, China was the world's fourth-largest economy (more recent reports indicate that it has now climbed to third). Urban incomes, particularly on the east coast of the country, have increased markedly.
The middle-income band - those with a household income of more than £9,300 - is predicted to treble by the middle of the next decade.
"Higher education has already transitioned from being an advantage available only to the few to one that is available to the masses, with gross enrolment rising by around seven times since 1998," the report says.
Enrolment now stands at 20 per cent of the university-age population, and the Government plans to push the participation rate up to 40 per cent by 2020.