Magazine article Newsweek International

The Campus Craze; China Is Building New Universities So Fast That Some Players See a New Bubble Looming

Magazine article Newsweek International

The Campus Craze; China Is Building New Universities So Fast That Some Players See a New Bubble Looming

Article excerpt

Byline: Duncan Hewitt and Melinda Liu (With Quindlen Krovatin in Beijing)

The University Of Nottingham's Ningbo campus was just an empty plot less than two years ago. Now its manicured landscape of lawn, trees and a lake is dotted with teaching buildings, brightly colored student dorms, a library and a state-of-the-art sports center. Inside, the signs and the names on staff offices are resolutely English. The university offers full British degrees at the undergraduate and graduate levels--all taught in English by a staff sent out from the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom.

Provost Ian Gow says, "We're preserving the essence of the best of a British university education, buton foreign soil." He acknowledges, however, that this English-language bastion in coastal Zhejiang province exists in a "kind of a bubble."

Mainland educators warn of another kind of bubble, too. China has gone crazy for building campuses of all kinds. State-run universities are expanding, merging and building grand new facilities. At least50 "university towns" are being constructed or planned across the country, aiming to make cities from Zhuhai to Xian into centers of learning. Privately funded colleges started mushrooming in the early '90s, and now number at least 1,300, with 45,000 students enrolled in Shanghai alone. And while the mainland already has hundreds of foreign joint-venture degree programs, places such as the University of Nottingham, Ningbo, are cutting-edge--they symbolize the transplanting of foreign universities, lock, stock and barrel, into China.

In the late 1990s, more than half the Chinese students who passed university-entrance exams were unable to attend due to a shortage of places. That's changing fast. The number of new college entrants has tripled from 1 million in 1999 to 3.38 million in 2005. Recent changes in policies fuel the boom by allowing banks to lend to state-run universities. After borrowing about $50 million, Shanghai Normal University has quintupled its student body over the past decade (to some 20,000) and has built a new suburban campus. "It looks just like Stanford," declares Zhang Minxuan of the Shanghai Education Com- mission, himself a professor at Shanghai Normal. He says 55 percent of the city's college-age citizens now receive some form of full-time higher education. That's a higher level than in the United Kingdom, where the government's target is 40 percent by 2010.

Yet even as hundreds of campuses bloom, experts are beginning to question the impact on quality. Chinese analysts criticize the rote learning still favored by state-run universities. They say proliferating numbers and types of tertiary education create problems such as faked recommendation letters, plagiarized academic papers and too many students chasing too few teachers. "Education in China is terrible," says Yang Fan, a professor at the People's University of Politics and Law. "We don't have enough qualified teachers, and the rote system of memorizing lessons has yet to be changed. …

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