Global attention to quality issues in higher education has reached an unprecedented level in recent years as countries recognize the correlation between educational quality and economic growth; the need for greater accountability in times of declining resources; and the demand for systems to deliver value for money. A strategy to improve the internal efficiency and therefore the performance and quality of Chinese higher education institutions includes, at its core, efforts (a) to develop a curriculum that is both internally coherent as well as externally responsive to labor market changes; (b) to enhance teaching and research activities, while setting up processes to attract and retain qualified and experienced staff and monitoring equity issues in relation to women and minority faculty members; (c) to institutionalize quality assurance practices in order to meet agreed quality criteria, by reinforcing and extending fledgling accreditation practices, linking monetary and nonmonetary incentives to good performance; and (d) to institute and sustain structures and procedures that will enable institutions to maintain levels of educational inputs (books, equipment and other instructional materials) and facilities relative to national norms.
Striking changes have taken place over the1980s in China's higher education curriculum, with (a) adjustments in enrollment emphasis that reflect both the personnel needs of a rapidly changing economy and rising social demand in certain popular areas; (b) a partial relaxation of central control over curricular content with institutions having more control over specialties and syllabi, while working within the guidelines of teaching hours and basic requirements provided by the government; (c) significant efforts in moving from narrow, highly specialized programs at undergraduate level to more broad-based structures of knowledge; and (d) experimentation with course organization and delivery methods. These are not evenly spread across the regions, however, as many institutions, particularly those in the poorer provinces, lack the technical and professional expertise that would allow them to take advantage of the policy changes.
Between 1980 and 1993, basic disciplines such as natural sciences and agriculture have seen a drop in enrollment as have the social sciences and humanities. The largest gains have been made in engineering (37 percent of all enrollments in 1993) and applied disciplines such as law, finance and economics—enrollment in economics rose from 3 percent in 1980 to 13 percent in 1993. In all areas efforts to move toward implementing broader-based curricula are evident but the absence of suitably trained and experienced faculty poses severe problems in many provinces. Each of the smaller number of programs in the applied sciences has a broader definition and wider professional employment scope; basic sciences have introduced links to new applications and providing hands-on experiences; and in the humanities the emphasis has been on enhancing potential areas of application, such as archives, tourism and urban studies in