January 21, 2008

Education Explodes in China

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NANJING, China — A high of 18 percent of Chinese high school students now become university students, according to Southeast University Vice President Yuepu Pu. This is partially due to the exponential growth in the number of colleges and universities, which has risen from a few hundred to about 2,000 in the past 30 years.
“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.
As the number of students at universities has grown, funding for universities has changed. Universities used to receive all funding from the government, but are now able to obtain support from other sources, Pu said.
The other financial support has now more than eclipsed the government funding, which makes up 20 to 30 percent of Southeast University’s annual budget. Tuition — another new addition to universities since the 1970s — provides another 20 percent of the budget; the remaining 50 to 60 percent comes from research funding and donations.
Tuition at many Chinese universities is 5,000 yuan a year (about $690), according to a reporter from one of China’s largest daily newspapers. The cost of tuition weighs more on people from rural areas, whose income averaged around 2,173 yuan ($300) in 2005, according to the Associated Press. In urban areas of China, incomes averaged about 7,250 yuan ($1,000) in the same year. Additionally, people in rural areas are more likely to have two or more children, while almost all families in urban areas have only one child.
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 after college in part to tuition payments.
When he was studying, the government paid for tuition, housing and other living expenses, which indebted students to do what the government wanted with the education.
In addition to students’ educational and professional decisions, the university administrators have gained more decision-making power, according to Pu. The Ministry of Education no longer has to approve visitors before they can be invited to campus, for example. This allows the university to host more events, including information sessions about different career paths and individual companies.
International cooperation has also become standard at Chinese universities. One day in January, a delegation from l’Université de Rennes in Rennes, France visited. Rennes, which incidentally has a joint program in physics with Cornell, has partner programs with South­east and a few other universities in China, according to Rennes President Bertrand Fortin.
In addition to relationships with overseas universities, Southeast has also developed programs with international companies like Boeing and Nokia. Students are now able to intern at companies within China and abroad, which did not occur in the past, Pu said.
In addition to the approximately 9,000 Americans who studied at universities in China in the 2005-06 school year, there were about 70,000 Chinese students currently attending universities in the U.S. in the same year, according to Tom Cooney ’90, public affairs officer for the Shanghai Consulate General. 2005-06 was the most recent year for which information was available, but Cooney said that the number had grown rapidly in the past few years and is probably much higher this year.
While the U.S. is the largest destination for foreign study by Chinese students, many also study in 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, said that Chinese students had trouble finding places to live while attending universities abroad 20 years ago 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, especially in the United States and Britain.
Separately, almost all Renmin and Southeast Universities students we asked, from engineers to journalism majors, said they wanted to study in the U.S. after graduating.

*In Chinese, names are written with the family name first and given name last. In Sun articles, Chinese names are written in the English manner.