With one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, China continues to face many challenges as it implements reforms simultaneously in several sectors. Educating and training young Chinese to lead, manage and develop the diverse areas of growth are formidable tasks for the higher education sector. As with other sectors such as labor markets, reform efforts in education are working toward a market economy and greater decentralization.
As this Report points out, China records a range of successes. However, the reform agenda shows much still to be done. The State Education Commission (SEdC) and the Bank's task team had jointly identified the major clusters of policy and practice measures that require attention: relationships between universities and the State, changing requirements of university management, financing of higher education, and quality improvement in instructional programs. With policy directions increasing in clarity, SEdC made the request that the study avoid advice that is couched in terms of general principles: rather it should focus on specific ways in which reform could be managed or implemented. The international task team worked closely with Chinese counterparts to provide concrete responses to the request and has presented detailed activities in the four areas for the consideration of policymakers and practitioners.
In the 1993 Guidelines for Development and Reform of China's Education System, China has rightly pointed out that the strategic initiative in international competition in the 21st century will be gained by those whose education looks forward to the new millennium. What students learn will be as important as how they learn. The nation will require flexibly-trained graduates whose strong, broad-based education and problem-solving skills permit creative combinations of the elements of knowledge, facilitating adaptation to a constantly changing and evolving economic and social environment.
In order to sustain economic growth, a critical mass of highly-trained personnel is essential. But public expenditure on higher education confronts many constraints. Escalating costs of higher education have forced governments everywhere to seek new sources of funding while preserving academic standards and principles of equity. China's recently-introduced tuition fee system is a step toward the diversification of institutional financial resources that will require further development. In parallel to the step toward efficient use of resources, equity will have to be served in terms of increasing access to higher education for appropriately qualified young people from poor rural homes. Relative to most rapidly-growing economies in the East Asia region, China's higher education participation rates are low and the low number of graduates has serious implications for sustainable economic development. This Report is timely in drawing relevant and critical national and international data to the attention of policymakers.
China's important leadership role in the Pacific Rim countries and beyond is undisputed. National bilateral agencies and institutions, and multilateral organizations and financial institutions can contribute to that role and its attendant responsibilities through well-formulated partnership activities. This Report, therefore, is intended for policymakers and practitioners, as well as a broad range of stakeholders in the education sector, both in China and internationally. This will include academic and nongovernmental organizations as well as domestic and private sector business concerns: in short, all those who are interested in facilitating China's long-term economic and social development.
Nicholas C. Hope
China and Mongolia Department
East Asia and Pacific Region