Mainland turning its humans to resources

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 May, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 May, 2004, 12:00am

Drive to education for all is being won, minister says, despite 'inadequacies'

China is determined to use education to turn its biggest problem - overpopulation - into its greatest strength - human resources.

That was the message from the mainland's vice-minister for education, Wu Qidi, to politicians, academics and business leaders at a global forum.

She told delegates at the 34th International Students' Committee Symposium in St Gallen, Switzerland, that although increased investment over the past 10 years had resulted in the 'beginning of mass higher education', funding was still 'inadequate' and there was a long way to go before education in all counties would be available to the majority of the population, especially in remote rural areas.

Introducing Dr Wu to the symposium - an annual gathering of key decision makers organised and run by the students of the University of St Gallen - moderator Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach, vice-chairman of Goldman Sachs International, reminded delegates that there were about 3,000 universities in China producing 2.5 million graduates a year in the field of management alone, which he described as 'quite extraordinary'.

Speaking on 'Education - Investment in Human Capital', Dr Wu told the symposium that the human element was 'the most dynamic factor in social productive forces' and that China attached great importance to education. Annual spending on it had increased by 18 per cent from 2001-2, with state investment now representing 3.41 of the country's GDP.

She said illiteracy among the young and middle-aged had been all but eliminated in many areas and the number of people between 18 and 22 going into higher education had increased from 9.8 per cent in 1998 to 17 per cent last year. A national census showed the number of university graduates per 100,000 people had risen to 3,611 in 2000 from 1,422 in 1990.

'The government has formulated strategies for rejuvenating China through science, technology and education. It is determined to increase human capital investment ... and construct a learning society featuring education for all with an emphasis on lifelong learning,' Dr Wu told delegates.

But she said that despite progress, 'the foundation of education and human resource development is still weak'. There were 431 counties without nine-year compulsory schooling, and quality in some regions where it had been attained was poor, especially rural ones.

'Research conditions and equipment standards of our institutions of higher learning are still backward. Scientific innovation capability is underdeveloped. Investment in education is still inadequate,' she added.

The government was taking steps to boost financing by introducing tax breaks for donations. It was also tightening laws on compulsory schooling, introducing scholarships, work-study programmes and reduced fee schemes for impoverished students, implementing programmes to train skilled professionals.

'By the year 2007, China will realise 85 per cent coverage of nine-year compulsory education in western and rural areas. It will also reduce the young and middle-aged illiteracy rate to below 5 per cent.'

Dr Wu ended her presentation with an appeal to the international community: 'We welcome it and its students to come and make a capital investment in people ... to enhance the overall development of human beings to help build the world's largest learning society. The door to China is open.'