Project 211

Stanford president sees China's universities joining world's best

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 April, 2008, 12:00am


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The mainland's top universities could be among the best in the world within a generation, the head of a leading US university has said.

Speaking in Hong Kong last Saturday, Stanford University president John Hennessy said the rise in prominence of Chinese universities would drive up competition internationally in terms of hiring the best academics.

'Quality is definitely on the upswing,' Professor Hennessy said, citing Tsinghua University, Peking University, Shanghai Jiaotong University and Fudan University as examples.

'You can see them moving, obviously overcoming some of the damage that was done during the Cultural Revolution and rebuilding their faculty. We have a number of graduates and PhDs who have gone back to become faculty members in China.

'My guess is that 30 years hence, several of those universities will be in the top 25 in the world.'

But he said funding was likely to be a hurdle to development for some time as the mainland institutions would have difficulty matching the 'world salary scale'.

'The competition for top faculty has probably never been as competitive as it is now,' Professor Hennessy said. 'It doesn't matter that it might be cheaper to live in China, you have to pay a 'super' faculty member US$200,000 per year.

'That obviously presents some challenges, particularly for state institutions in China, but I think they are willing to try to find ways to do that because they want to get the best people.'

If they could raise the cash, Chinese universities would find themselves effectively bidding against top-flight institutions around the globe.

'For really top faculty in a discipline, there is an international market that includes the United States, Cambridge and Oxford,' he said.

'Increasingly you are going to see that market being in China as well. I think it has already started.'

That would create inflation in the going rate for a leading academic in fields such as stem cell biology and developmental economics, where there was a finite pool of talent who could 'write their own ticket'.

However, the electrical engineer and computer scientist, who has led the prestigious San Francisco university since 2000, said he did not see competition from Chinese universities as a threat.

'I am a strong believer in competition,' he said. 'I think it is one of the things that have made higher education so strong around the world.'