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Chinese higher education at ideological crossroads

2012-05-07 13:07     Web Editor: Wang Fan comment

( -- Chinese educational institutions such as the prestigious Peking University are fostering "delicate egoists" who are highly intelligent, sophisticated and tactful in obtaining goals, yet such graduates will pose greater harm to society once they hold power, pointed out Professor Qian Liqun at a recent seminar.

Within hours, Qian's comment was forwarded over 35,000 times after a high-profile guest at the seminar posted it onto a microblogging site, and it has resonated among many scholars across the nation ever since, said China Youth Daily.

In the last decade, higher education has continuously grown, changed and developed in China, but the sector is now facing many challenges, among which widespread material aspirations are unwittingly destroying modern universities, experts say.

Education weaknesses

Late last month, the Liu Daoyu Education Foundation held a seminar on the topic of "Ideal Universities" in Beijing, where renowned educationists discussed problems that Chinese universities are currently confronted with and effective measures to deal with those problems.

Liu Daoyu, a famous educator, scientist and social activist, now in his late seventies, also attended the seminar. Although he is hard of hearing, Liu still offered his thoughts on the weaknesses of higher education in China.

The former president of Wuhan University is convinced that education should be based on mankind's ultimate values, and pointed out five weaknesses in the current system of higher education, not only at home but also abroad.

The first and most fundamental weakness, said Liu, is that universities have been unable to determine either theoretically or practically the perfect solution to the survival crisis of human beings.

Other weaknesses include the invasion of utilitarianism in education, the spread of fickleness in studies, the blind pursuit of top rankings and the confusing target of educational reforms.

In the end, Liu called for a return from material aspirations to the original simplicity of higher education.

Scramble for top scorers

Every year, when national college entrance examinations come around, elite universities begin a fierce competition for top-scoring students. And for the past three years, as universities in Hong Kong have become hotter commodities for mainland students, the competition here has become even more intense.

As China's most esteemed institutions of higher education – whose reputations are most on the line – Peking University and Tsinghua University are continuously the most ambitious when it comes to scooping up top scorers on standardized exams.

For years, the institutions have thrown money left and right to draw such students, but some prominent experts argue it is a waste of money.

According to Liu Daoyu, the overdevelopment of an individual's intelligence for exam purposes may hinder their development in other aspects. Moreover, top scorers are not necessarily more valuable than those who score favorably or toward the top, added Liu.

A good example is Steven Chu, the current United States Secretary of Energy. When he was in college, Chu was always around tenth position in class, while his brother always ranked number one. Yet following graduation Chu's performance was surprisingly excellent, and even better than his brother's, according to China Youth Daily.

Zhou Wu, a primary school teacher in Hangzhou, refers to it as the "number ten phenomenon." In most cases, those who are always top scorers in class will not become career elites, but those who are around the tenth position often have unexpectedly high performance in future study and work.

Zhu Qingshi, the founding president of South University of Science and Technology of China (SUSTC), supports Liu's opinion, revealing that the late world-renowned mathematician Shiing-shen Chern (Chen Xingshen) advised his students to "not get full marks," but instead learn a variety of things in daily life.

Pursuit of utilitarianism

Many Chinese university students are only concerned about their self-interests, especially opportunities to study abroad and their futures after graduation. To achieve their goals, some students practice bribery and ignore moral principles to attain their objectives, reported China Youth Daily.

Zhu Qingshi said universities should train students in scientific knowledge, common sense, moral principles and proper behavior, not just award them with certificates. Currently in China, many students laze away their university years and learn few things of value, he added.

A Chinese student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology said he had never imagined that university life could be so exhausting; he now stays up late in the laboratory every night, because a single lapse might result in failure. He said school life at Peking University was much easier, since passing the examinations would naturally lead to his graduation in the end.

Many participants at the seminar had similar opinions, and pointed out that many Chinese universities have fallen behind in development and expansion because they have lost the academic rigor that is essential to universities.

Liu warned that the pursuit of utilitarianism will make Chinese universities hollow and empty. According to scientific research, funding is not so important; great findings such as Newton's and Einstein's did not require abundant funding at all, said Liu.

Purity and simplicity are the spirits universities should have, and students should not be seen as raw materials to be shaped along a standardized production line imposed by an educational management regime, stressed Liu.

Last month, the Ministry of Education officially approved the launch of South University of Science and Technology of China (SUSTC) as a national education and comprehensive reform experiment. The university is the country's first "independent" university, which is seen by many as a bold move by the current higher education system.


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