Is there an alternative university model?

The debate around the Chinese model of the university

Authored by: Qiang Zha , Jinghuan Shi , Xiaoyang Wang

Routledge Handbook of the Sociology of Higher Education

Print publication date:  June  2016
Online publication date:  June  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138778122
eBook ISBN: 9781315772233
Adobe ISBN: 9781317677789


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From the late 1990s, Chinese higher education has struck the world with its amazing pace of expansion. Indeed, enrollment grew at an average rate of 17 per cent per annum between 1998 and 2010. Meanwhile, the Chinese government has been investing hugely in elite university schemes (i.e., Projects 211 and 985) in order to raise some universities and programs to a world-class level. This move has triggered global competition in terms of seeking to create world-class universities. As a backdrop, China’s economic success over the past three decades has stimulated a debate on the so-called “Beijing Consensus”, vis-à-vis the “Washington Consensus” for development. From a fragile economy in the late 1970s, China has overtaken other major economies successively, and became the world’s second largest economy in 2010. It is now second only to the United States. China’s economic success certainly has implications for its universities, and in turn it requires knowledge backing from those universities. While it has been argued that there is only one predominant university model, rooted in the core values of medieval European universities and enriched by modern American universities (Altbach, 1992, 2001), China’s current triumph in higher education has ignited discussion and debate over whether or not there might be an emerging Chinese model of the university. 1

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