Academics seek to match West
Staff Reporter in Shanghai
As China speeds up economic reforms after its entry into the World Trade Organisation, education leaders are mapping out reforms to make universities more competitive.
The new emphasis is on fostering creativity and innovation, said Jiang Hong, a publicity official at Jiaotong University in Shanghai.
Jiaotong, which hosted a five-day meeting of leaders of the nation's top 50 universities last week, is importing Western ideas on technology-aided classrooms, freedom of choice in selecting subjects for study, and other means of allowing students to reach their full potential, he said.
Now it is in the WTO, China will have to fight to hold on to talented individuals, and face up to global competition in the spheres of education and technology, Mr Jiang said.
'If China wants to see its economy progress in the age of globalisation, the key is to sow the seeds of more creative talent through the educational system,' he added.
Education reformers who attended the seminar agreed that the past practice of teaching students that non-conformity ran against the basic tenets of Confucianism and communism should be abandoned.
Instead, China's best young thinkers should be encouraged to 'think beyond the box', Mr Jiang said.
Chinese universities 'will be competing with Western and Japanese educational institutions in the higher education market', the Shanghai Daily quoted educators as saying.
The newspaper quoted Zhou Yuanqing, director of the China National Higher Education Researching Association, as saying: 'Entry into the WTO will bring both challenges and opportunities to the country's higher education market, which step by step will be opened to foreign investment and methodologies.'
Mr Jiang said China's economic integration with the rest of the world had already presented opportunities and dangers to Chinese schools.
He said that during recent visits to Jiaotong, Microsoft boss Bill Gates and Toshiba officials publicly talked about co-operation with the school in research. But he said that privately, the heads of the American and Japanese IT titans also conducted headhunting drives targeted at the school's best minds.
'The global flow of talent and academics is already following the globalisation of the economy,' he said, adding China had to improve its education methods to prevent a brain drain.
Mr Jiang said Jiaotong and other schools were adopting many ideas from Western universities.
Unlike in the past, when students were treated like gears in the Communist Party-controlled state-planning machine and had no choice about classes, subjects, or even future jobs, undergraduates were now being asked for input on core courses and on other subjects, he said.