Tuesday, 6 June 2017

SCMP Article: New Guidelines for Chinese Universities on International Students

The South ChinaMorning Post published an article this morning claiming that international students will be compelled to take classes in Chinese culture and language, as well as Chinese political theory for students majoring in philosophy or politics. 

The article refers to the new “School Enrolment and Training of International Student Management (学校招收和培养国学生管理法)” jointly issued by the Ministries of Education, Foreign Affairs and Public Security.  The full text is available here in Chinese.

However, the document appears to be aimed at firming up administrative practices across Chinese universities as they continue to experience growth in international student numbers. 

For example, there are stipulations concerning the strict observation of admissions standards (Article 12), with students failing to meet minimum requirements prohibited from being admitted.  International students are permitted to undertake work-study internships, but prohibited from employment or engaging in other business activities (Article 30).  International students are required to electronically register any diplomas or degrees obtained or being pursued (Article 21). 

Article 16, which is singled out for particular criticism by SCMP, requires provision of a course on Chinese language classes and a general introduction course on China (汉语和中国概况当作为高等学历教育的必修课). For international students majoring in politics and/or philosophy, a further compulsory course on  political theory must be taken.  These courses would take place in the first year of a four year degree at a Chinese university, while Chinese UG students take the compulsory courses in Marxist-Leninist Thought, Socialism with Chinese Characteristics and Contemporary Chinese history. 

The three suggested courses, especially the provision of Chinese language tuition, makes a great deal of sense for students embarking on a four-year undergraduate degree.  However, further specifications are made on language which SCMP elected not to cover. 

Firstly, Article 18 clearly states that Mandarin is the official language of Chinese HE provision, but also allows for colleges and universities with the necessary facilities and resources to provide teaching and assessment in foreign languages (Article 19).  Specifically, coursework may be completed in a foreign language, with abstracts of theses/dissertations being provided also in Chinese. 

The SCMP article mentions the requirement of Chinese universities to “teach” international students about laws, regulations and customs. However, this is a stipulation laid out in Article 25 under Chapter IV: School Management.  It is actually a proviso placed on the school management, not a pedagogical requirement, and refers to induction information and pastoral support. 

 Chapter IV: Article 25 - Colleges and universities shall educate international students on the contents of Chinese laws and regulations, school discipline, national conditions, Chinese traditional culture and customs, and help them to become familiar with and adapt to the learning and living environment as soon as possible.
Colleges and universities should set up international student counselors to understand the international students of learning, living needs, timely information, advice, sports and other aspects of service work. The proportion of international student counselors is not less than the proportion of Chinese student counselors, and Chinese students counselors enjoy the same treatment.
 International students are specifically provided latitude to celebrate important traditional festivals (Article 27) and to establish a “Friendship Society” through the university’s systems for extra-curricular guidance (Article 28). 

The banning of religious activities is not dealt with in this document, nor is it specifically targeted at international students.  The PRC Higher Education Law (1999) and the PRC Education Law (1995) determine that religious activities are not to be facilitated inside educational institutions.  The new management guidelines on international students actually provide flexibility, but do not permit universities to contravene existing laws through provision of facilities for religious activities:

Chapter IV: Article 29 - Higher education institutions shall respect the national customs and religious beliefs of international students, but do not provide places for religious activities. No religious activities such as missionary or religious gatherings are permitted in the school.”
The SCMP also mentions that these regulations require international students living off campus to register with the Public Security Bureau, implying a new system of monitoring students.  However, as anyone who has lived in China will know, this is a requirement for any and all foreigners.  At all times, foreigners must have an up-to-date temporary registration certificate, whether they are staying with friends, in a hotel, renting an apartment, or have purchased their own home.  The presence of this requirement here is to improve university records of student residence and to ensure students are aware of the potential fines they face for not correctly registering at the relevant police station (派出所). 

The overlap of regulatory oversight of international students is why a joint policy has been issued by these three ministries.  It seeks to both clarify and strengthen the provision of counseling, induction and administrative services for foreign students, encouraging the universities themselves to develop systems to correctly administer international programmes.

The SCMP also highlights the role of "instructors" and, confusingly, compares these to political ideology tutors who deliver first year courses to Chinese students mentioned earlier.  Article 15 does mention the requirement for colleges and universities "select teachers suitable for international student teaching" with the purpose of ensuring improvements to "quality assurance system of education and teaching" regarding the education of international students.  Beyond this, there is no mention of any other functions or roles for the teachers.  It appears to be a simple encouragement for institutions to develop and select teachers who are capable of meeting the educational needs of international students.  

Certainly it also outlines some caveats in the provision, but these are mostly common sense.  Most international students take courses in Chinese language.  The provision of a general introduction to Chinese customs and society is something I wish I’d had in Fudan back in 2004.  And a course in political theory for degree-seeking foreign students enrolled on politics and philosophy majors at Chinese universities is, for want of a better expression, a no-brainer. 

If anything, this document evidences a clear intention on the part of the MoE, with the support of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Public Security, to provide a much more professionally administered service to international students. 

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Forthcoming Publication: "Western Higher Education in the Middle East and Asia: Politics, Economics and Pedagogy"

I'm pleased to announce a forthcoming edited volume from Lexington books.  The volume entitled "Western Higher Education in the Middle East and Asia: Politics, Economics, and Pedagogy" will be released in early 2017 by Lexington Books, an imprint of Rowman and Littlefield.

The volume is edited by Kevin Gray (Asst. Prof @ American University of Sharjah); Hassan Bashir (Assoc. Prof @ Texas A&M University in Qatar) and Stephen Keck (Professor of History @ Emirates Diplomatic Academy).  

I have contributed a chapter on Chinese-Foreign Cooperatively Run Schools (CFCRS), providing a detailed analysis of the landscape in officially approved Sino-Foreign HE collaborations approved between 1991 and 2015.  This covers 1150 agreements between Chinese and non-Chinese universities for the delivery of 1445 degree programmes at the UG level and above.  

The volume provides contributions from a number of scholars actively working in and across the global HE environment, bringing perspectives on transnational education from inside the the institutions and environments which constitute the focus of this volume.  


"Western Higher Education in Asia and the Middle East: Politics, Economics, and Pedagogy is a multidisciplinary volume that highlights the transformation of the relationship between higher education and society in the twenty-first century, and argues that the development of the global university has transformed the traditional understanding of the relationship between higher education and society. This has important implications for relations of state, as education has not only become an object of national development policy but, for many states, an important export. These changes re ect the social transformations that have given definition and identity to both new nations and established centers of education.

In the post-war period, universities in the industrialized world underwent a radical shift. The mass expansion of higher education ensured that universities were no longer centers designed to train youth to assume the leadership positions held by previous generations. Instead, universities were to become centers where job skills could be imparted and knowledge produced, re ned, and used in the newly emerging Cold War economies, and where students could develop the skills necessary for employment in a changing world. A shift of comparable magnitude is now ongoing in the nature of higher education aborad. Globalization has led to the growth of knowledge communities around the world, mirroring the rise of centers for global nance in previous decades. In the Middle East and Asia, the demands of the knowledge-based economy have led to the opening of new indigenous universities, branch campuses and partnerships with established European and North American universities. These new arrangements have contributed to the creation of what is now referred to as the global university."

“There is much talk of a neo-liberal global knowledge economy but little analysis of its impact on higher education outside dominant centres of knowledge production. This superb edited collection redresses that imbalance and enables us to understand the neo-liberal knowledge regime as not only an economic project but also an exercise in cultural hegemony.”
John Holmwood, University of Nottingham 


Mike Gow is currently Teaching Fellow in the Humanities and Social Sciences at Xi'an Jiaotong Liverpool University. Prior to his appointment at XJTLU, he was Global Postdoctoral Fellow at NYU Shanghai (2013-2015).  He received his PhD from the Centre for East Asian Studies at the University of Bristol.  

Saturday, 30 July 2016

World Class Universities with Chinese Characteristics: Who makes the list?

Towards the end of last year, Xi Jinping called for the need to establish “World Class Universities with Chinese Characteristics” (中国特色世界一流大学 zhongguo tese  shijie yiliu daxue).  This new strand to the China Dream discourse sets out a goal of establishing truly world class universities by 2020, and positions elite HE reform as part of the first of  Xi’s “two centenary goals” (两个一百年斗目标 liang ge yibainian fendou mubiao). The first of these centenary goals is to establish a prosperous nation by the 2021, the centennial of the Chinese Communist Party.  The second aims realize a vision of China as prosperous, democratic, civilized and harmonious by 2049, the centennial of the People’s Republic of China. Both of these campaigns pertain to the 4 national-level values outlined in the Core Socialist Values campaign ((社会主核心价值观 shehuizhuyi hexin jiazhiguan).

Until now, HE reform under the Xi leadership has been conspicuous in so far as it has largely followed the direction of the 2010-20 Medium to Long Term Plan developed under the administration of Xi’s predecessor, Hu Jintao. But this announcement signals the inevitable capture and deployment of HE in Xi’s superstructural reforms. The only real surprise is that HE has not been targeted sooner. This move indicates an intention to develop world class institutions which compete with the best the world has to offer, but which are also distinctly Chinese. By “Chinese”, the CCP means universities which contribute to the realization of a nation, society and citizenry which reflects the Core Socialist Values and the works to pursue and realize the national economic and social development objectives laid out in the 13th Five Year Plan.

This announcement has since been followed up, in May, with a direct call from Xi himself to foster and promote the development of “philosophy and social science with Chinese characteristics” (中国特色哲学社会科学 zhongguo tese zhexue shehuikexue). Taken alongside the call for world class universities with Chinese characteristics, this represents a significant departure from the reforms efforts of the last 20 years, which have focused on massification, knowledge transfer and restructuring of the higher education infrastructure. What it implies is that, as with other civil society institutions, the CCP demonstrate an ambivalence to civil society in the western sense: they desire the stability conferred upon societies by civil society, and the way in which values permeate the institutions of the state and civil society in western countries, yet they do not share those values and view them as distinctly “un-Chinese”.  (This, in my view, is why the Xi’s administration is profoundly different from his post-reform predecessors: Xi is focused overwhelmingly on the superstructure, perhaps due to the approaching problems foreseen in shifting the economy from export-led manufacturing to a consumer-driven economy).  

The announcement on World Class Universities with Chinese Characteristics signals an end to two projects, both of which have been decreasing in importance since around 2008: Project 211 and Project 985.  As anyone with a passing knowledge of Chinese HE must know, these projects were launched under the leadership on Jiang Zemin, with 211 aimed at establishing 100 leading universities for the 21st century, while the 39 universities also categorized as 985 universities haven risen to prominence as the research elite of Chinese HE.  Undoubtedly, it will take time for these labels to wither and die, especially outside of China. When any Sino-Foreign collaborations are discussed, the first question asked by many foreign universities is “are they 985? Are they a 211 university?”. Quite apart from the misleading nature of these categorizations (there are many superb and well-resourced universities which are not members of either 985 or 211), these labels will decline with importance until they are consigned to history. 

Instead, within China, a new classification of leading universities has been drawn up.  47 universities are divided first into either “World Class” (世界一流大学 shijie yiliu daxue) or “Internationally Renowned” (知名大学 guoji zhiming daxue).  They are then further categorized as either Comprehensive ( zonghe) or Specialized (特色 tese).  In this instance, the use of the Chinese 特色 simply refers to a specialized institution, and is not to be conflated with the 特色 as used in phrases like “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics” (中国特色社会主zhongguo tese shehuizhuyi).  All 47 universities have been designated under the umbrella term “World Class universities with Chinese Characteristics (中国特色世界一流大学 ). These universities will be pushed and supported throughout the 13th Five Year Plan period to attain the status of World Class or Internationally Renowned by 2020-21.  

The following chart and table give more details on the categories and the institutions included: 

The Major Question
The most controversial aspect of this listing? As it probably has not escaped your attention, it includes universities in Hong Kong (HKU and HKUST) and Taiwan (Taiwan University). 

The central question that arises from this is: “What exactly is a ‘World Class University with Chinese Characteristics?”.

The term clearly indicates that the very idea of the university is to undergo a kind of Sinification, as has been the case with the pragmatism embodied by “socialism with Chinese characteristics”. The common sense understanding of the university is of an institution characterized by freedom of enquiry, autonomy from the state and the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake.  It is these ideas, that will be subject to surgery, reflecting the CCP view of HE as in service of the PRC Academic freedom is often cited as a problem in Chinese universities, though this is, to a great extent, massively over-emphasized. The real issue is that of institutional autonomy. For example, universities cannot launch degrees without approval from the Ministry and provincial education authorities; the Gaokao remains an effective draft of talent, rather than a qualification valid for admission to a university through a selective recruitment process; universities cannot set their own fees, as this is handled by the provincial Pricing Bureaus, and universities must develop 5yr plans which contribute to the 5yr plans of the jurisdictions under which they operate (Ministry of Education, Province, Municipality, other Ministries, Chinese Academies).  In effect, universities serve the state and are both the subject and source of China’s industrial policy, especially with regards to science and technology, R&D and IP.

So with this dual call for Universities and Philosophy/Social Science with Chinese Characteristics, it is evident that the very idea of the university is to be subjected to a reimagination in service of the China Dream. The CCP’s use of terms such as democracy, freedom, rule of law in the Core Socialist Values is substantively different than use of those terms in, say, the US or Europe.  The same is likely to transpire for China’s universities. 

What we will likely see over the next 5 years is not an all-out war on academic freedom, as many will likely speculate. There is and will remain a generally positive environment especially in and across STEM disciplines.  Yet the call for a philosophy and social science with Chinese Characteristics does present a double-edged sword with the potential to slice away at the harmony between academia and the Party. However, I expect that we will see developments as the CCP push their ideas and material resources through institutions to create opportunities for advancement for academics willing to rise to this challenge. Certainly this will be more likely within the Mainland, but the question remains over the inclusion of HK and Taiwanese institutions: are these "World Class universities with Chinese Characteristics" purely by virtue of their geographical and cultural locations? Or does this indicate plans to absorb HK and Taiwan HE into the PRC's broader state HE reforms? 

Its going to be a very interesting 5 years. 


Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Li Peng Tragedy: Exploitation of Doctoral Students in China

The death of a Masters student in an industrial accident has brought the issue of student-supervisor relations to the fore.  Li Peng, a 25 year old 2nd year Masters student at East China University of Science and Technology (ECUST 华东理工大学) was killed in an explosion at a factory in Shanghai's Qingpu district on the 23rd May.

Sixth Tone have run an article which highlights the often exploitative tendencies of graduate supervisors in Chinese universities.

In Li's case, the accusation is that Li was prevented from working on the academic papers necessary for graduation, instead being cast into servitude, working for the firm owned by the supervisor. Li Peng's treatment is, sadly, all too common and the result of placing far too much power in the hands of academics, many of whom lack integrity. It is a system which, combined with the pressures of Chinese academia, creates and normalises industrial-scale academic misconduct.

I've spent my entire career in China, teaching at Chinese and Sino-Foreign institutions (the latter are by no means immune from this, but are often oblivious to it - in one case, I've helped a student enrolled on a UK PhD programme to submit their thesis when their Chinese supervisor, the Head of Department, was deliberately holding it up, causing extreme levels of stress to the student).
It has long been my belief that the greatest barrier to China's ambitions to create world class universities is the suffocation of academic talent in the early stages of their career, and the self-perpetuating reproduction of an exploitative hierarchical supervisor-student relationship.  Of course, there are excellent supervisors.  But China has way more than its fair share of nasty supervisors.  This is common knowledge and, more problematically, there seems little impulse to meaningfully reform this status quo.

I reproduce here a section from my PhD thesis which draws on an interview with a Researcher at a C9 university.  Corroboration of this information was found from a number of sources from grad students, all the way to university Presidents and every step of the academic ladder in between.  But my discussion with this researcher was formally recorded and permissions obtained.

While Li Peng was a graduate student at ECUST, my focus here is on the exploitation of doctoral students. However, the problems are clearly related and stem from the same unchecked power


8.1.3    Manifestations of Chinese Social Conventions in HE

My own observations in the field of Chinese HE lead me to believe that skill and ability in managing relationships according to the diktats of social conventions is substantially more important than academic ability or administrative ability, regardless of prevalent common sense opinions that academic ability is the most important factor.  Although academic ability is necessary, it is far from the case that individual academic performance is alone sufficient to bring success in the accumulation of the various forms of capital at stake in the academic field.  While performance in the gaokao, undergraduate and postgraduate examinations are necessary to enter the field of academia, the game changes substantially at the point of undertaking a PhD, and it is during this phase that the inculcation of norms of the Chinese academic sphere occurs.  What reveals itself is a system of selection on the basis of a willingness to conform to the unwritten social rules of the Chinese HE context.  It is a system which negates the potential for dissent and which demands conformity to the conventions of the hierarchies, the duties attributed to each role and the benefits commensurate with varying tiers of social status within the academic field.  
            One especially surprising admission made by President A, President B, Lecturer A, Researcher A, and which had been made clear in informal conversations and unrecorded interviews with several academics and administrative staff at various institutions, is that senior academics spend a very small proportion of their time on actual research.  This is especially the case for senior influential scholars, such as academicians (yuanshi 院士) and senior full Professors in receipt of large funding grants such as Project 863 and 973, but also for many Professors throughout the Chinese HE system without very high status levels but who are senior within their own departments and/or institutions.  However, the lack of research activity does not necessarily translate into a lack of publication activity, as the dynamics of the research team adhere to strict hierarchies and divisions of labour.  In discussion on the process of selecting young scholars for involvement in research projects administered by senior academics Researcher A offered some valuable insights into the accepted orthodoxy of Chinese academia at this level:

Sometimes on ability.  Sometimes on guanxi.  Often the attitude of the (young) scholar.  After several years of cooperation between the young scholar and the influential scholar, the young scholar can get very little.  For example, publishing a paper, the first author should be the influential scholar.  The administrative tasks of the influential scholar should be handled by the young scholar.  This is very normal in China. But, everyone knows it is not correct.  There are too many things in China now, everyone knows its not a good method.  But no one wants to change it.  In China the research team is not similar to the research team in western universities.  In this research team, the cooperation between the people in this team is not to discuss between us to write a paper.  No.  We all have our own roles.  The influential person must get resources from above, and I must write the papers. They (the influential scholars) do not do any research.
Researcher A (Interview 8)

Co-signing of papers has been highlighted as a major problem and is rife throughout Chinese academia, with Professor Shen Hong (Shen, 2000:30) describing the practice as “widespread”, yet “unacceptable”.  Researcher A offers insight into the unwritten codes of conduct in the relationship between a PhD candidate and their supervisor.  To clarify, the term young researcher is interchanged here as many PhD candidates are funded through research projects of their supervisors:

MG:  As a young researcher, to what extent do you have any direction over the research projects in which you’re involved?

RA:  You just do as you are told.  You have no choice.

MG:  What if you refused??

RA:  Refused? (laughter).  You would not be included in this research team. 

MG:  What if, for example, ‘I disagree with the way we’re doing this research’? Or you suggest some other method?

RA:  In most circumstances, there is no chance for you to discuss this.  The direction has been determined before the research project was applied for.  PhD students in China, with some supervisors, have no chance to choose their own research interests.  Their thesis should be on a subject given to them by their supervisor.  If you’re unlucky you’ll encounter this kind of supervisor.  Its very bad. 

MG:  What if you objected?

RA:  Its impossible.  If you don’t follow my directions you cannot get your degree early.  Firstly, your supervisor will agree you can get your degree, then college level, then university level.  Some supervisors are more open.  I just know many supervisors who do not allow the students to refuse or reject their decisions. 
Researcher A (Interview 8)

This hierarchical and authoritarian relationship is also divided according to duties, as discussed earlier, whereby junior research team members are responsible for research and writing of papers and administrative tasks of the senior research staff, while the senior staff are focused on securing more resources. Researcher A, referring specifically to his own school at a C9 university elaborated on this point: 

It's a very quick method for supervisors to write papers.  Senior scholars its not pressure, its their aspiration.  In Chinese universities, if I publish a top tier journal paper, I would be awarded 100 000RMB.  For one paper.  Sometimes shiwuwan (RMB150k).  There is method: cooperate with western scholars.  We just provide the data, they produce the paper.  They can be the first author, we can be the 2nd or 3rd author.  1st author: shiwan (RMB100k); 2nd author; wuwan (RMB50k); third author; liangwan (RMB20k).  It's a very big problem in China.  That's the reason Chinese scholars don’t want to cooperate.  I hate this.  It's the reason I don’t want to go a national university.  All the national universities.  All of them have the same reward system.
Research A (Interview 8)

RMB100, 000 at current exchange rates equates to roughly £10, 000.  It must be stated that further clarification confirmed that this bonus structure was particular to a business school at a C9 university, and is not necessarily the norm, but that it is common at prestigious business schools, with comparable publication bonuses being paid for publications in the top science journals.  Alarmingly, the order of authors’ names directly influences the bonus payable, with the 1st author receiving a substantially larger payout than the 2nd or 3rd author.  This information was also corroborated by a Professor at another well-regarded C9 university business school where bonuses were claimed to be even higher. 
            An impediment to change is the competitive advantage possible from having a small army of young scholars publishing.  Those senior scholars hoping to compete at the top tier of Chinese academia are compelled to maintain a productive research profile even when their time is taken up completely by efforts to secure ever more resources with which to conduct ever-larger research projects.  Yet, the substantial cash incentives available for publication in world-renowned journals can exceed a full year’s professorial salary for a single journal publication.  Even though these publications have amongst the most rigourous academic review standards (see Appendix 8 for a list of journals accepted by a prominent C9 university business school), in many cases PhD students are expected, prior to and as a condition of the completion of their studies, to publish in journals of this quality.  I had heard this from many PhD students and post-doctoral researchers and asked Researcher A to clarify the actual requirements of publication as a pre-condition of graduation:

RA: There is no quality analysis.  The only method is to look at the level of the journal.  Top Tier journals I have 3 publications.  Second tier, I have 2. 

MG: But you are still doing your PhD? 

RA: I should have 3 Chinese papers and one international paper. 

MG: If you don’t have those papers, what happens?

RA:  No PhD.  Of course, no PhD.  They have listed 30 journals, Chinese journals, you should publish in only these journals.  International journals, they also have a list.  A, B, C level. 

In Researcher A’s experience the bonuses paid for publication in journals as described above were not paid to the PhD student.  Even on these papers, published as a condition of graduating, there is a strong instance of co-signing of papers with the supervisor often placing their name first on the paper.  Researcher A, who was still finalizing their PhD at the time of the interview and had, at that time, a significant number of publications, including in journals listed in the Social Science Citation Index (SSCI) and the Chinese language equivalent, the Chinese Social Science Citation Index (CSSCI), stated that even those English language SSCI publications were not counted as they were in publications not ranked by his/her business school as of sufficient standing.  The extent to which this practice is prevalent across the Chinese HE sector is unclear, though Researcher A appeared adamant that in the elite universities, where publication stakes are high and competition is particularly severe, this practice is widespread.  It is difficult to resist the conclusion that such behaviour, if it is as widespread as I have been informed, is not only plagiarism on an industrial scale, but is a method by which research funds which must necessarily be spent on the training of young doctoral researchers is potentially and effectively laundered through a process which demands publication of papers by doctoral candidates as a condition of graduating from a doctoral programme, and for which the supervisor receives research credit and a financial reward. 

8.1.4    The Power of Social Conventions.

The practices discussed above are indicative of the strength of informal structures in controlling and directing behaviour in Chinese HE, including most importantly the reticence over challenging established practices. As has been discussed earlier, the willingness to resort to use of regulatory and legislative means to resolve issues are subsumed by the need to maintain interpersonal harmony, especially for those occupying the subordinate position in dyadic ties.  As the above example of co-signing papers shows, there exists a strong resistance to shine a light on practices that most actors recognize as being morally dubious.