40 Years of China-US Cooperation in Higher Education: Working to securethe global common good

Panel in San Francisco at the Comparative and International Education Society Annual Meeting, April 14-18 

Panel overview: 

Panel Chair: Gerard Postiglione, University of Hong Kong

The global common good is a big order, even for World-Class Universities. Universities in the US and China can have an inordinate influence on the interpretation of, and service to, the global common good. Their ‘positionality’ gives them the potential to build extensive collaborative networks through their respective global initiatives. This means that they have an opportunity and growing responsibility, through research and teaching, as well as academic and educational exchanges, to work more closely together to remove obstacles to improvement of the global common good. At the September 27th 2017 US-China University Presidents Forum: Relations Over the Next 50 Years, held at Columbia University, Vice Premier Madame Liu Yandong said China and the United States should enhance people-to-people exchanges to build stronger ties where the two countries ‘have the least disagreements and the most consensus’ (Columbia University Programs, 2017). This includes academic exchanges through collaborative research, as well as education exchanges that help students in both countries to develop a commitment to the global common good. Academic and educational exchanges among universities in both countries, have continued to expand over the past 35 years. Madame Liu asserted that: ‘China-US ties have become warmer, more resilient and more dynamic.’ She went a step further: ‘We hope that universities and think-tanks of the two countries will carry out strategic and forward-looking research and jointly cultivate high-quality talents so as to make positive suggestions for the development of China-US relations.’ (Liu Y.D., 2017). While the enhancement of the global common good inevitably depends upon relations among all countries, the relationship between the US and China currently constitutes the world’s most important bilateral link. At the same Forum, Henry Kissinger, the architect of US-China relations that led to normalization in 1979, said: ‘the only alternative to positive relations between Washington and Beijing is global destruction’ (Kissinger 2017). Such a statement give pause in any consideration of the role of universities in advancing and safeguarding the global common good. In a similar light, former Yale University President Richard Levin, a frequent visitor to China, highlighted the transformation of contemporary universities in historical perspective: ‘As never before in their long history, universities have become instruments of national competition as well as instruments of peace […] a powerful force for global integration, mutual understanding and geopolitical stability’ (Levin, 2006). Universities in China and US obviously deserve the confidence and support of their governments to address global obstacles to global peace and security, but especially to sustainable social and economic development.

This panel argues that the global common good, as defined by what is shared and beneficial for all or most members of the global community and achieved by collective action, will rest more heavily on universities in two countries – China and the US – and how they build productive networks of academic collaboration in the next fifty years that address urgent global problems.

The panel has four papers. The first by SHEN Wenqin reflects upon the 40 year period of “learning from the USA” in terms of the experience of policy transfer. Using academic archival materials, oral interviews, and policy texts, he analyzes the history of the impact of policy transfers in higher education. The second paper by Gerard Postiglione asserts that securing the global common good requires that universities in China and US pay much more attention to the growth in social and economic inequality as well as unequal access and equity in their own institutions. Postiglione looks at how universities in China and the US have provided lessons for other countries in addressing the issue of access and equity in higher education. The third paper by Denis Simon addresses the key issue of innovation in US China educational relations. The fourth paper by ZHU Zhiyong, Zhang Guili, and HAO Shaoyi looks at China’s visiting scholar program and provide useful insights for China and USA about how to strengthen the cooperation between higher education institutions and governments, especially pertaining to faculty development.

Paper 1: 

Learning from USA: Policy transfer and the development of Chinese higher education since 1978, SHEN Wenqin, Graduate school of education, Peking University

Policy transfer is a classic theme of comparative education research. Relatively speaking, few studies on China’s higher education adopt this perspective. Since 1978, China’s higher education reform has been deeply influenced by the Western model, especially the American model, but there is still a lack of research on this impact. Ruth Hayhoe and Marianne Bastid’s “China Education and Industrialization World”, edited in 1987, analyzes the influence of Germany, the Soviet Union and other countries on Chinese higher education, but the book’s discussion of the impact of the United States is limited to the progressive education movement. After that, the research on the impact of American higher education model on China is extremely rare. This study intends to fill this gap.

This study analyzes the history of the impact based on academic archival materials, oral interviews, and policy texts. In the 1980s, China established a three-level degree system based on the American model, and transformed the polytechnic universities into comprehensive universities. At the same time, the Chinese NSF was established based on an American Chinese scientist’s suggestion to rebuild scientific research functions in universities. Since the 1990s, the influence of the American model on Chinese higher education has further deepened into curriculum teaching and personnel system reform, such as the development of general education courses, the development of EDD degrees, the introduction of the tenure track system, and so on.

Since 1978, the policy transfer in Chinese higher education has shown some characteristics. First, the influence of the United States dominates, but at the same time Germany, the United Kingdom, France and other countries have become the object of learning. Second, policy learning from the United States reflects the characteristics of selective adoption which means that the foreign model is partially copied and reinterpreted in Chinese context.

Paper 2: 

Universities in the US and China: Closing the gap on social and economic inequality

Gerard Postiglione, Honorary Professor and Coordinator, Consortium for Higher Education Research in Asia, https://chera.edu.hku.hk/Faculty of Education, The University of Hong Kong

The World Economic Forum (WEF) put widening inequality on record as ‘one of the key challenges of our time’ (WEF 2015, 2017). This is because many global issues are associated with widening inequality, including a weakening of social networks, a rise in crime and weaker

democracies. Widening inequality also has worrying implications for sustainable development,

such as climate change, health catastrophes, and global economic instability. The S&P Global Ratings cites the gap in income as a long-term threat to economic growth in the US (Standard and Poor’s, 2014). China’s government has highlighted the widening wealth gap in the world as a global challenge. While declaring it will uphold the international order, it noted that no country can handle such a challenge alone. Due in part of economic globalization, China and the US share certain similarities with respect to inequality. Alvaredo, Chancel, Piketty, Saez, and Zucman (2014, 2017) note that both countries have witnessed an extreme rise in income inequality since the 1970s. Earners in the top one percent in the US take down about 20 per cent of pre-tax national income. The top one per cent in the US owns one-third of all the wealth and the top 10 per cent own three quarters (Xie, 2017). The corresponding figure in 1978 was 12 per cent. They calculate that over the same period, the top one per cent in China doubled their share of income, which rose from six per cent in 1987 to 12 per cent now. After bringing more than a half a billion people (640 million) people out of poverty in 30 years (1981-2010) China plans to eliminate poverty by 2020 (Economist, 2013). China also restores stability to the global economy because 800 million Chinese workers have become as productive as their Western counterparts, but are not close in terms of consumption (Xie, 2017). It is not surprising that economic globalization would make both countries experience a rise in economic inequality in tandem. If universities in both countries want to address this dimension of the global common good, then they must begin with addressing unequal access and equity that is embedded within their own institutions. Of all the dimensions of the global common good, the rapid growth of inequality poses the greatest risk and undergirds other global problems, such as sustainable development and social stability (Piketty, 2015). How Chinese and American universities deal with issues of access to the national wealth and credentials is indicative of how well or poorly they address the global common good. Students at elite universities in the US are from far wealthier families than most citizens realize. According to a study by Chetty et al. (2017) based on millions of anonymous tax filings and tuition records, 38 universities in America, including five in the Ivy League – Dartmouth, Princeton, Yale, Penn and Brown – have more students who come ‘from the top 1 percent of the income scale than from the entire bottom 60 percent.’ The study tracked about 30 million students born between 1980 and 1991. They linked anonymized tax returns to attendance records from almost all universities in the US. ‘At elite colleges, the share of students from the bottom 40 percent has remained mostly flat for a decade. Access to top colleges has not changed much, at least when measured in quintiles. The poor have gotten poorer over that time, and the very rich have gotten richer’ (Chetty, et al. 2017). Both have policies and laws to improve access. China uses quotas for ethnic minorities and increased quotas for improving access for students from impoverished areas to enter top tier (Project 211) universities. The US has legal precedents that encourage universities to institute ‘affirmative action’ policies to ensure diversity. Both countries provide various levels of financial support to students unable to afford tuition and fees. Policies and laws have not resulted in more equal access, but rather an intense struggle over what constitutes merit. China now produces twice as many college and university graduates a year as the US does. In 2017, China graduated more than double the number of students who will graduate this year in the US (World Economic Forum 2017, China National Bureau of Statistics and US Department of Education). Admission rates to China’s WCUs risk mirroring the US pattern, especially during the transition to mass higher education.

How the two top economies in the world address this problem of equalizing access by way of their WCUs, now and in the future, has the potential to globally influential to other WCUs in other parts of the world, whether in B&R countries or Western industrialized countries. In short, these two countries have a responsibility to do more to address this issue. With respect to university access and equity, both countries share similarities and differences. This paper will examine how best practices in China and US can help improve social and economic development for the global common good through fairer access and equity in higher education.

Paper 3: Universities and innovation in US and China. 

Denis Simon, Executive Vice Chancellor at Duke University’s new joint venture campus in Kunshan, China.

China is in the midst of transitioning from a manufacturing-based economy to one driven by innovation and knowledge. This presentation includes an up-to-date analysis that evaluates China’s state-led approach to science and technology, its successes and failures, in comparative perspective.

While the US universities are viewed as leader in global innovation, China has seen huge investments in high-tech science parks, a surge in home-grown top-ranked global companies, and a significant increase in scientific publications and patents. Unlike in the US, this has been helped by state policies and a flexible business culture, making it possible for China to leapfrog its way to a more globally competitive position.

However, the presentation demonstrates that the contrasting approaches of universities in US and China about innovation raise a key issue. The presentation argues that China’s current approach might not yield the same level of progress going forward if its universities do not address serious institutional, organizational, and cultural obstacles. While not impossible, this task may well prove to one of the greatest challenges that China has faced since the reform and opening.

Paper 4:Learning from USA: Evaluating China’s University Faculty Visiting Scholar Program in the USA

Zhiyong Zhu (College of Educational Administration Beijing Normal University)

Guili Zhang (College of Education East Carolina University)

Shaoyi Hao (College of Educational Administration Beijing Normal University)

The studying abroad policy is an important component of China’s foreign policy. Chinese visiting scholar program has experienced periodical changes but overall has seen tremendous growth during the last 40 years. Its changes can be closely tied to change of China’s foreign policy, China’s relationship with foreign nations, globalization, China’s economic growth, and its recent goal of world-class university building. China now ranks number one in the number of visiting scholars it sends out to study abroad, especially USA. China’s visiting scholar program has become a worldwide recognized phenomenon. The program’s size and impact have soared over the years and have reached the highest in history since the beginning of the 21stcentury. Every year countless visiting scholars are sent abroad from China. However, few evaluations have been conducted to examine the visiting scholar program. In this paper, we explore the purpose, cost, process and impact of China’s visiting scholar program to the USA. In particular, using data obtained from all visiting scholars of a comprehensive university in Beijing to the USA funded by China Scholarship Council since 1996. We studied and evaluated the academic and life impact of the visiting scholars in the USA. We hope that a look at China’s visiting scholar program will provide useful insights for China and USA to strengthen the cooperation between higher education institutions and governments, and also provide experiences for other countries who want to take faculty development to the next level.

Panel Discussants:

Prof. Liu Baocun, Beijing Normal University

Prof Li Jun, Western University, Canada

Panel references:

Alvaredo, F., Chancel, L., Piketty, T., Saez, E. and Zucman, G. (2014).Global Inequality dynamics: New findings from Wid.world. Working Paper 23119, National Bureau of Economic Research. Retrieved February 6, 2018 from http://www.nber.org/papers/w23119.

Alvaredo, F., Chacel, L., Piketyy, T., Saez, E. and Zucman, G. (2017). Global inequality dynamics: New findings from WID.world. American Economic Review: Papers & Proceedings, 107(5): 404-409. Retrieved February 6, 2018 from https://doi.org/10.1257/aer.p20171095.

Chetty, R., Friedman, J., Saez, E., Turner, N. and Yagan, D. (2017). Mobility Report Cards: The Role of Colleges in Intergenerational Mobility. Retrieved February 6, 2018 from http://www.equality-of-opportunity.org/papers/coll_mrc_paper.pdf.

Economist (2013) Toward the End of Poverty. Retrieved February 6, 2018 from https://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21578665-nearly-1-billion-people-have-beentaken-out-extreme-poverty-20-years-world-should-aim.

Gewirtz, J. (2017), Unlikely Partners: Chinese reformers, Western economists, and the making of global China, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press

Hayhoe, Ruth, and Marianne Bastid, eds. China’s Education and the Industrialised World: Studies in Cultural Transfer. Armonk, N. Y.: M. E. Sharpe, Inc.,1987

Li, H. (2007). US-China educational exchange: State, society, and intercultural relations, 1905-1950. Rutgers University Press.

Liu, Y.D. (September 27, 2017). quoted in “China, US have least discord on people-to-people exchanges.” China Daily. Retrieved February 6, 2018 from https://www.chinadailyasia.com/articles/49/118/189/1506508247156.html.

Levin, R. (Aug 21-28, 2006). Universities branch out. Newsweek. Retrieved February 6, 2018 From https://law.yale.edu/system/files/documents/pdf/Public_Affairs/PresidentLevinArticle.pdf.

Kissinger (September 27, 2017) Columbia University Piketty, T. (2015). The Economics of Inequality. Cambridge: Belknap Press.

World Economic Forum (2017). Retrieved February 6, 2018 from https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/04/higher-education-in-china-has-boomed-in-thelast-decade. (with figures from China National Bureau of Statistics and US Department of Education).

Xie, A. (October 9, 2017). No more fool’s gold. South China Morning Post, A11.

Xie, A., Postiglione, G. et.al. (2017). Rural students in China’s elite universities: Understanding their first year of academic and social success. Paper presented at American Education Research Association Annual Meeting, May 1, 2017, San Antonio, TX.