6. ACHIEVING REFORM GOALS: STRATEGIC PRIORITIES

The mission of any higher education system includes:(a) the advancement of understanding and the generation of new knowledge; (b) contribution to the economic well-being of the community it serves; (c) enabling the development of effective social institutions; and (d) the enrichment of the cultural environment. The government has taken a pragmatic, gradualist approach to implementing changes, proposing a gradual devolution of the state's overall management function from the center to provincial and municipal authorities. This report has reviewed policies and implementation to date and provides advice in four key areas of China's reform agenda in higher education:(i) the changing role of government in relation to higher education institutions; (ii) the implications for institutional management; (iii) the diversification of the structure and sources of financial support and its utilization; and (iv) quality improvement in higher education with particular emphasis on staffing and curricular issues.

At the institutional level, the motivation to change appears to be driven by the government's plan to support the development of 100 key universities and some key areas of study in order to reach international standards, with every college and university aiming to become a member of this exclusive collective. [To meet the challenge of the world's new technological revolution, the resources of central and local authorities and of other sectors must be pooled to properly manage about 100 key universities and a number of key areas of study and specialized studies. China should strive to raise to the world's higher levels in the early 21st century with regard to educational quality and scientific study and management of a number of institutes of higher learning, fields of study, and specialized studies.]1 To the extent that the plan has stimulated institutions to strive for greater efficiency (mergers of small institutions, improving staff-student ratios, etc.) and for enhanced quality (rationalizing curricula, upgrading staff qualifications and facilities), China has met with success. Despite the progress made thus far, institutions that are handicapped at the start of the race with minimal financial resources and even less managerial, technical and professional know-how, are likely to face the probability of even greater divides and disparities by the end of the next decade. There are clear implications for political and economic destabilization as a consequence. The analytical outcomes of this report, based on experience and cumulative information from higher education projects undertaken by the World Bank since 1982, that the variations and disparities within the system— of geographical region, of physical terrain, of economic and social development, of technical expertise, of human and financial resources—preclude courses of action that hold true uniformly for the 1,065 institutions (1995 figure is 1,054 institutions as a result of mergers).

This section of the report identifies courses of action and recommends that implemented of reforms see as priorities. The three clusters of strategies outlined here were selected based on the following criteria and subsume the action plans suggested earlier:

1 [State Issues Educational, Development Program,] Beijing Xinhua Domestic Service, February 25,1993, translated in Foreign Broadcast Information Services, March 3, 1993, FBIS-CHI-93–040, pp. 16–17.

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