logo: globalization

Globalization (2008)

Globalization and Chinese Higher Education

Xiaobin Li, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Faculty of Education, Brock University
St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada L2S 3A1
Tel: 1 - 905 - 688 5550 x 5043
Fax: 1 - 905 - 641 5091
Email: xli@brocku.ca

Linbin Zhao, Ph.D.
Minjiang University
Fuzhou, Fujian, China

China joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) in December 2001. One consequence of the Chinese ascension to WTO is the increased awareness of globalization among Chinese higher educators. “Integration into the world economy has led to a redefinition of the role of higher education in China” (Vicovich, Yang & Currie, 2007, p. 105). This paper discusses the commitments China has made in opening its education market after joining WTO and their probable impact on Chinese higher education. The paper also describes Chinese attitudes toward globalization and foreign education. Finally, it discusses the recent development in Chinese higher education with regard to international cooperation.

For many decades international trade mainly involved goods; trade in services was secondary. Over the past thirty years, however, trade in services has grown faster than trade in goods. To promote the former, 149 WTO members negotiated and signed the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). Education is one of the 12 major service sectors according to WTO classification (WTO, 2002). In this classification scheme, educational services are further divided into five subsectors: primary, secondary, higher, adult and other education (WTO, 1991).

Article II of GATS promotes most-favoured-nation treatment; Article XVI urges the opening up of markets; Article XVII requires members to extend national treatment to service suppliers of all other members (WTO, 1994). However, Clause 1 of Article XIII stipulates that Articles II, XVI, and XVII shall not apply to laws governing the procurement by governmental agencies of services purchased for governmental purposes, i.e., those services not intended for commercial resale (Varoglu, 2002).

Obviously, primary and secondary education is services purchased for governmental purposes without the intention of commercial resale. By contrast, higher education and adult education tend to rely more on private sources of financing and are more likely to be engaged in commercial activities. It follows that higher and adult education are more likely to be considered services with a view to commercial resale. Thus, it is mainly in higher education and adult education that governments must decide whether to open their market and to what extent. Both questions are continuously debated at WTO talks.

The Context and Chinese Commitments

With regard to higher education, there has been a significant upturn in flows of people and services beyond national borders (Vidovich, Yang & Currie, 2007). Education is being liberalized and transformed into a multi-billion dollar industry, powered by market-liberalization proponents in the developed economies, in particular the US, the EU, Japan, New Zealand and Australia (Robertson, 2003). At the last round of WTO talks in Hong Kong in December 2005, the US identified the liberalization of higher education and adult education services as one of its top four priorities (Czernis, 2005). The US wanted China to remove the prohibition of foreign education services provided through satellite technology and the requirement that foreign education providers must cooperate with Chinese to work in China (Lu & Zha, 2004). A new multilateral group, Friends of Private Education Exports, has formed in New Zealand with its goal to gain more commitments from more countries regarding education services (Canadian Association of University Teachers, 2006).

China strives to be competitive internationally and to achieve “first class” universities. Two key strategies are decentralization and marketization of higher education (Vidovich, Yang & Currie, 2007). While the Chinese government states that China is a socialist country at its primary stage, Green (2007) thinks the rise of China portends the creation of a completely new form of capitalism in the largest market in the world. Chinese are involved in all four international modes of providing education services (WTO, 2002). With mode one, cross-border services, currently some Chinese students are receiving education provided by foreign institutions through the Internet.

With mode two, consumption abroad, between 1978 and 2007 more than 1.21 million Chinese went abroad to receive further education. In 2007 alone about 144,000 Chinese went overseas for education (Meng, 2008). In mode three, commercial presence, at least three Chinese and foreign cooperative higher education institutes have been established in China (Helms, 2008). With mode four, presence of natural persons, more foreign scholars are teaching in China, and an increasing number of Chinese scholars are teaching in other countries.

When China joined WTO and signed GATS, it stated its position regarding education services: (1) China would not open its market in primary and junior secondary education, and in military and police training. (2) Restrictions would not be placed on Chinese traveling overseas for education or on foreign nationals entering China for education. (3) With certain conditions, China would gradually open its markets for higher education, adult education, senior secondary education, preschool education and other education. Foreign institutions would be allowed to cooperate with Chinese but they would not be permitted to operate independently in China. (4) When employed or invited by Chinese institutions, foreign educators would be permitted to work in China (WTO, February 14, 2002). China is the only country among Economic and Social Commission of Asia and Pacific members that has extended its commitments to liberalize access in all five education services subsectors (Raychaudhuri & De, 2007).

The general aim of WTO is to expand international trade in ways that promote economic growth for all member states (WTO, 1994). To expand trade in services under conditions of progressive liberalization, GATS promotes most-favoured-nation treatment, an open market, and national treatment. Regarding education, this means that member governments are expected to loosen their control over education. Any educational activities that charge tuition can be considered trade in services.

These WTO rules represent a serious challenge to the Chinese higher education system, which has been under almost complete government control since 1949. But these same rules can also be viewed as an opportunity that, if seized, will facilitate the transformation of Chinese higher education and help to establish an environment in which the higher education system can develop in ways that better meet social needs. There are at least four forces that put pressure on the Chinese higher education system to change: (1) the increasing demand for higher education, (2) the economic globalization, (3) the emergence of private higher education (Hayhoe & Lin, 2008), 4) limited government funding (Dahlman, Zeng & Wang, 2007).

Most WTO members signed GATS in order to promote international trade in services. However, many WTO members have not specifically committed themselves to opening their education market. After health, educational services is the sector in which the members have established the fewest commitments on liberalization (Verger, 2008). As of August 2006, only 39 WTO members made a commitment to liberalize access to higher education services (Raychaudhuri & De, 2007). Those that have done so have attached various conditions to their commitments.

After China made specific commitments to open its market in education services, more foreign instructors are working in Chinese higher education. Naikai University in Tianjin started recruiting chair professors globally in 2004 and deans of colleges and schools in 2006 (Guan, 2006). On May 10, 2007, Austrian physicist Romano A. Rupp arrived as the new Dean of Taida Institute of Applied Physics of Nankai University. Dr. Rupp was a professor at the University of Vienna before accepting the appointment at Nankai (Nankai University, 2007). As the number of international scholars working in Chinese institutions increases, more international students are attending Chinese universities. According to the Ministry of Education, 162,695 international students studied in Chinese universities in 2006, which had an increase of 15.3 percent over 2005. The three main sources of international students were South Korea, Japan, and the United States (Yu, 2007). Most international students were self-financed, with about five percent of them on Chinese government scholarships (Meng, 2006).

As globalization progresses, international competition will certainly raise the demand for educated people. Since China is increasing its participation in the global economy, it needs well-educated citizens who can compete with international colleagues.

Attitudes Toward Globalization and Foreign Education

Since 1978, China has put itself on course to narrow the gap between its higher education system and those of developed countries. To Chinese educators, the benefits of further participating in international higher education are as follows: (1) The Chinese higher education system will have to adjust its administration to follow the relevant WTO rules. These rules will force the Chinese system to change some of its policies. (2) The increased international exchanges will have a significant impact on Chinese educators’ practices. They will introduce new pedagogical models, which may change curricula locally, nationally, and internationally. (3) More private and international investors will participate in higher education. No longer will the state be the only investor. This will gradually alleviate the problem of inadequate funding. (4) As international exchange and cooperation increase and more international education resources become available to Chinese educators, they will update their knowledge more quickly.

At the same time, China is facing serious challenges now that it is a WTO member. Vidovich, Yang and Currie (2007) argue that the challenges globalization brings will not be uniform across countries. For Chinese, the first of these challenges relates to the probable impact of globalization on the administration of Chinese higher education. WTO promotes the gradual liberalization of the education services. As foreign institutions enter China, conflicts will arise relating to values, concepts, and goals. At the present time, the national government makes the main decisions about policy and structure, but the provincial governments actually administer many of the institutions, which have some autonomy to address local needs. All of these will be affected by GATS. When it comes to market forces, Chinese institutions will find themselves disadvantaged.

Second, as China undergoes liberalization in services, its higher education institutions will find themselves competing with foreign organizations. Since 1999 the number of higher education students has almost tripled in China and there are more and larger universities, but there are still not enough higher education institutions, especially quality ones. Some institutions in developed countries have noticed this increasing demand for higher education in China. In 2007 universities from the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Russia, the United States and other countries sent recruiters to educational exhibitions in China or hired local representatives (China Center for International Educational Exchange, 2008). British and Australian institutions have been particularly aggressive in recruiting Chinese students. To attract international students, some countries have eased their visa requirements and even allow international students to work in their countries. In addition, some institutions in developed countries recruit Chinese researchers by offering higher pay and better working conditions. As a consequence, Chinese institutions may lose some of their good instructors and researchers. Some top Chinese graduates may want to move to developed countries. From 1978 to 2007, of 1.21 million Chinese gone overseas for education, only 319,700 have returned (Meng, 2008).

Third, economic globalization and the Internet are generating cooperation, as well as conflicts, between societies. It is easier than ever for university students to access a huge variety of cultures and ideas, and this will have a strong impact on their values and world views (Dai, n. d.). A recent news report tells of a successful Chinese student, Wu Yinyin, at Beijing Normal University. Wu is a senior at the university yet she is already the Asia deputy chief executive of an American company, TopCoder. She has three role models: Madame Curie, Mother Teresa, and Hillary Clinton. None of them is Chinese (Gao, 2007).

In 2002 more than 700 residents in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou were surveyed regarding their attitudes toward foreign education after China joined the WTO (National Bureau of Statistics of China, 2002). With respect to preschool education, the vast majority (84 percent) thought that domestic educational institutions would be good enough to start children’s early education. Only a small percentage of the respondents (16 percent) thought that foreign education would help children ready themselves earlier. Regarding the years of compulsory education (grade one to grade nine), more respondents (96.5 percent) favored domestic education, and only 3.5 percent thought this part of education should be completed in a developed country. When it came to senior secondary school (grades ten to twelve), 81.5 percent continued to prefer domestic education, but 18.5 percent preferred foreign education. The respondents selected the domestic sector in primary and secondary education because of the low costs and the Chinese higher education entry examination system.

When it came to higher education, domestic institutions were not rated highly. The survey found that 89.5 percent of the respondents were interested in receiving foreign education, and only 10.5 percent selected domestic institutions. It seemed that many of the respondents lacked confidence in domestic higher education. They were not satisfied with these institutions’ goals, learning environment and employment opportunities. When asked about various training programs, 70.5 percent selected foreign education, and only 29.5 percent chose domestic education. The following table summarizes the respondents’ preferences.

Attitudes Toward Foreign Education Survey Results in Percent

Senior secondary81.518.5
Higher education10.589.5
Training programs29.570.5

When asked what the advantages were to receiving foreign education, the respondents offered these explanations: 26.8 percent thought that foreign education would help students learn new ideas; 25.7 percent hoped that receiving foreign education would help them develop internationally marketable skills; 25.7 percent believed that a foreign education would help them achieve a better future; 13.4 percent thought that foreign education would make them more efficient; and 8.4 percent expected that foreign education would make them more versatile. Regarding location, 59.9 percent preferred a developed country, 7.6 percent would accept international education providers working in China, and 32.5 percent thought that either would do (National Bureau of Statistics of China, 2002).

International education exchanges are enabling Chinese to absorb foreign science and technology as well as recent developments in administration. Learning from developed countries is helping China develop its economy as well as its science and technology. It is also helping Chinese educators reform and develop their education system (Chen, 2002). In improving the system, Chinese higher educators need to consider issues from a global perspective. They need to be aware of WTO regulations that promote the liberalization of trade in services and make the Chinese higher education system more open. They need to explore opportunities to form cooperation with international colleagues (Ge, 2005).

Development in Recent Years

One indicator of higher education development is participation rates. When the participation rate in higher education is between 15 percent and 50 percent, it is considered mass education (Trow, 1973). In 2007 there were more than 27 million Chinese students in various higher education programs, and the higher education participation rate was 23 percent (Ministry of Education, April 2008). The Chinese system can be considered mass education. The system has become the largest in the world, and higher education is more accessible than ever before, but there are problems.

There are significant gaps in the development of higher education across regions and social groups, as well as between urban centers and rural areas. These gaps negatively affect some families, especially families in poorer regions, when they try to access higher education. The participation rate does not provide an accurate picture of Chinese higher education. Higher education is not available in some rural and remote areas. With tuition rising rapidly, higher education is difficult for some poor families to access. In addition, the increasing availability of higher education is making people pay more attention to quality, and there are concerns.

On May 10, 2006, the State Council decided that growth in higher education needed to be curtailed so that financial resources could focus more on improving the learning environment. This slowdown will benefit institutions as they adjust disciplines. It will also address current problems, especially the problem of employment for graduates. The overall goal is to make the growth in higher education sustainable. The size of the higher education system will be stabilized. More attention will be paid to training secondary school students in skills that will make them more employable. Adult education programs, continuing education programs, and vocational training programs in secondary schools will all be expanded. Some areas of higher education will be more carefully regulated. One problem that needs to be addressed is tuition hikes; another is institutions’ capacities (China Education Daily, 2006). The government will enhance the quality of higher education and provide more scholarships and other financial assistance (Cui & Wu, 2008; Wen, 2008).

The global trend in higher education is from elite education to mass, and then to universal education. Problems often accompany this process. In China these problems relate to scale, quality, funding, and structure, as well as employment opportunities for graduates. As Chinese higher education developed from elite to mass education, the problems related to the formerly planned economy and inadequate funding have made the uneven distribution of educational resources very obvious.

Chinese are interested in learning from developed countries, and higher education in China is not as accessible as in developed countries. For these two reasons, among others, China sends more students overseas for higher education than any other country. The number of Chinese students going abroad for education is still growing. In addition, Chinese have started receiving foreign education at home.

On March 1, 2003, the State Council promulgated the Regulations of the People's Republic of China on Chinese–Foreign Cooperation in Running Schools. It states that the national government encourages Chinese universities to cooperate with quality foreign education institutions. The government particularly encourages universities to cooperate with foreign institutions in the fields of administration, finance, law, and technology.

At present, over 100 Chinese higher education institutions are cooperating with American, Australian, British, French, Canadian, Japanese, and German counterparts to provide instruction to Chinese students (Ministry of Education, n.d.). These Chinese institutions have introduced advanced teaching resources into Chinese education. They have made changes in their administrative practices, pedagogy, and curricula. The gradual opening up of Chinese higher education allows Chinese educators to benefit from developed countries’ educational resources. It also helps to promote Chinese education in other countries. By the end of 2007 there were 210 Confucius institutes in 64 countries around the world with 46,000 students (Liu, 2007).

On February 7, 2006, the Ministry of Education announced a decree with respect to the cooperation of Chinese and foreign education institutions. This decree directs provincial education ministries to follow several principles when collaborating with foreign institutions. Among other things, anyone cooperating with foreign institutions must place the public interest first. In addition, when collaborating with foreign institutions, Chinese educators and administrators must follow the relevant laws and regulations, play a leading role, protect the interests of all parties involved, and maintain national security, social stability, and the established educational order.

In September 2004, the first students entered the campus of the University of Nottingham-Ningbo, which has an independent legal person status as well as its own campus. The University of Nottingham-Ningbo is the first university designed, built, and run cooperatively by Chinese and a foreign university. The Chancellor of Nottingham University in England, Yang Fujia, is the president of Nottingham-Ningbo, and Ian Gow, former Director of Nottingham University Business School, is the vice president. The University of Nottingham-Ningbo follows the curriculum and evaluation procedures of Nottingham University in England, which selects instructors for Nottingham-Ningbo. Instruction is provided in English. The license to operate the University of Nottingham-Ningbo is valid until 2055 (Ministry of Education, September 5, 2007). On graduation, students will be conferred a Chinese undergraduate graduation certificate and a bachelor’s degree from Nottingham University. In September 2006, the first students started their study at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University in Suzhou, which is a joint venture of Xi’an Jiaotong University and the University of Liverpool. The license of Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University is valid to 2056 (Ministry of Education, September 5, 2007; Xi’an Jiaotong University, 2008).

China has gone through a tremendous change since it started opening up in 1978. The economy has been completely transformed, and as a result the Chinese labor market is undergoing important changes. To meet the requirements of the changing labor market, Chinese higher educators consider the balance of supply and demand when they design curriculum. Chinese higher educators have been paying more attention to societal change, and compared with the past, the national government has given considerable autonomy to universities (Yang, Vidovich & Currie, 2007).

On July 12, 2006, the Third International Chinese and Foreign University Presidents’ Forum was held in Shanghai. University presidents from the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia, Japan, and other countries attended the forum to discuss how universities can better serve economic and social development. The Chinese Minister of Education, Zhou Ji, met with some of the foreign university presidents in attendance, confirmed that international cooperation was having a positive impact on Chinese education, and encouraged his guests to strengthen their cooperation with Chinese colleagues (Ministry of Education, July 14, 2006). On April 6, 2007, the Ministry of Education promulgated a decree to provide more detailed rules for cooperation between Chinese and foreign higher education institutions.

In 2007 about 10.1 million Chinese applied to take the higher education entry examinations, with an increase of 0.6 million over 2006. On June 7 and 8, 2007, 9.5 million people actually took the examinations (Yang, 2007). About 5.7 million people were admitted into various higher education programs in the fall (Ministry of Education, April 2008). As demand for higher education increases, so does the interest in going overseas for education. On June 16, 2007, Beijing 21st Century Experiment School announced that it would open an American Advanced Placement Program in the fall. Within several days over 200 people had consulted the school, and more than 60 secondary school students had applied (Fang & Li, 2007). Those interested in the program intended to go to study in an American university. In Nanjing, Nanjing Foreign Language School will admit 150 students into its “Sino-Canada International Senior Secondary Program” in the fall. The most recent 75 graduates from this program have all been admitted into universities in the United States, Canada, and other English speaking countries (Chen, 2008).

Globalization is having an impact on Chinese higher education. It has brought real opportunities as well as serious challenges. Across the world the demand for international education is forecast to increase (Raychaudhuri & De, 2007). There is an enormous appetite for higher education in densely populated countries that want to build human capital to fully participate in the knowledge society (Knight, 2006).

Although there are questions and different opinions (Healey, 2007), internationalization is a positive and inevitable element of global higher education (Altbach, 2008a). Globalization ― understood as the rapid acceleration of cross-border flows of capital, people, services, goods, and ideas ― is the defining feature of our age (Green, 2007). Chinese education policies and governance have been influenced by globalization agendas and global trends (Mok, 2007). While Altbach (2008b) thinks globalization has not led to equality in higher education, we believe following the relevant WTO rules is conducive to the development of Chinese higher education. In the debate about possible impacts from globalization, most Chinese scholars think they will have a positive influence on Chinese higher education (Chen, 2002; Dai, n.d.; Ge, 2005; Guan, 2006; Meng, 2006; Vidovich, Yang & Currie, 2007; Wu 2002; Yang, Vidovich & Currie, 2007). Chinese are interested in learning from developed countries, the policy elite in China has actively and enthusiastically engaged with globalization (Vidovich, Yang & Currie, 2007), the Chinese demand for higher education continues to grow, foreign providers are meeting part of this demand, and market ideologies may be a stronger influence in Chinese higher education (Yang, Vidovich and Currie 2007). Indications are that in seizing opportunities and dealing with challenges, most Chinese higher educators are interested in globalization and will expand their cooperation with international colleagues to meet the changing and increasing needs of society.


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