January 8, 2008

Universities Transform With Changes in Chinese Government, Society

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Chinese society has undergone major changes in the past 30 years and universities have not fought the trend.
Due to the exponential growth in the number of universities — there are about 2,000 today, compared to a few hundred previously — 18 percent of high school students become university students now, according to Southeast University Vice President Yuepu Pu.
[img_assist|nid=26548|title=Intercontinental.|desc=Bertrand Fortin (second from left), president of the University of Rennes in Rennes, France, speaks with administrators of Southeast University and Sun editors on Southeast University’s new campus. Photo: Matt Hintsa|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
Funding for universities has also expanded with the increase in students. While universities used to receive all their funding from the government, they are now able to utilize other sources, Pu said. Only 20 to 30 percent of Southeast University’s annual budget comes from the government. Another 20 percent comes from tuition — before the 1970s universities were free — and the remaining 50 to 60 percent comes from donations and funding for research.
“I think China will be much better in [the] future [because of education],” said Prof. Wuyi Zhang, who works in the Office of International Cooperation at Southeast University.[img_assist|nid=26590|title=Row after row.|desc=Southeast University students fill a large computer in the main library of their new campus. Photo: Matt Hintsa|link=node|align=right|width=|height=0]
While paying for tuition, housing and other costs of living may be difficult for some Chinese university students, Pu attributes loosening government control on students’ decisions about what they study and where they work in part to the paying of tuition. He said that the government paid for everything when he went to university, which allowed them to tell him what to do with the education.
In addition to students’ education and professional decisions, the university administration has gained more decision making power, according to Pu. For example, the Ministry of Education no longer has to approve visitors to campus before they can be invited. This freedom allows the university to host more events, including information sessions about different career paths and individual companies.
International cooperation has also become a university mainstay. At the same time we were visiting Southeast University, a delegation from l’Université de Rennes in Rennes, France was also visiting. Rennes, which incidentally has a joint program in physics with Cornell, also has partner programs with Southeast and a few other universities in China, according to Rennes President Bertrand Fortin.
Southeast has also developed programs in cooperation with international companies like Boeing and Nokia, in addition to their relationships with international universities. Students are now able to intern with companies within China and abroad, which used to be impossible.
In addition to the approximately 9,000 Americans studying at universities in China, there are about 70,000 Chinese students currently attending universities in the U.S., according to Tom Conney ’90, public information officer for the Shanghai Consulate General.
While the U.S. is the largest destination for foreign study by Chinese students, many also study in Great Britain, France and Germany, according to Yongping Chen, deputy director of the Office of International Cooperation at Southeast University.
Chen, who has researched how cultural variations affect learning, also said that 20 years ago Chinese students had trouble finding places to live while attending universities abroad because many students did not want to live with students who were from foreign countries. This is generally not a problem anymore for Chinese students, however, especially in the Unites States and Great Britain, he added.
Separately, almost every student we asked what they wanted to do after graduation from Renmin and Southeast Universities, from engineers to journalism majors, said they wanted to come study in the U.S.

*In Chinese, names are written with the family name first and given name last. The names of Chinese people in Sun articles are written in the English manner, however, consistent with other names.

Click here for more about The Sun’s trip to China