A former police chief has been named the party chief of a Shenzhen-based university designed to be the nation’s first “red tape-free” higher education institute – an appointment that was deemed by some mainland citizens as “suspicious”.
The Guangdong provincial party committee appointed Li Ming, ex-head of the Shenzhen public security bureau, to lead the South University of Science and Technology of China (SUSTC) during a meeting on Wednesday, Xinhua news agency reported.
Li, who also has a background in teaching, will replace the school’s founding president, Zhu Qingshi.
When the university was established with financial backing from the Shenzhen municipal government, Zhu had vowed to build the nation’s first ultra-modern education institution that would be free of bureaucracy, which he deemed the education system’s biggest stumbling block.
“A modernised university should be set up in accordance with a university charter approved by a legislature, a people’s congress in the region [whether provincial or municipal],” Chu said in an interview with the South China Morning Post in 2011.
However, in response to the latest appointment, microbloggers questioned whether Li – who comes from the bureaucracy – could maintain a truly non-bureaucratic set-up.
Apart from heading the police force, Li was vice-president of Shenzhen’s politics and law commission, according to a profile on Xinhua.com. From 1982 to 1992, Li taught at X'ian Jiaotong University in Shaanxi province before being appointed farther south, in Guangdong province, to take charge of the Shenzhen government’s political research office.
“Though Li is familiar with the politics on campus, is he the best person to lead SUSTC? The appointment makes us suspicious,” Beijing News wrote in its official microblog on Wednesday.
'Mark of failure'
Analysts said the appointment marked the failure of the university in its battle against bureaucracy.
Xiong Bingqi, deputy director of the 21st Century Education Research Institute, said the university’s attempt to push forward education reforms proved to be a failure.
“The resistance is from the administrative departments. Apparently the plan of the local authority is to build a university within the existing education system,” he said.
Despite the directives issued by the central government last November to tone down the presence of administrative departments in public institutions, the reforms could never truly move forward unless the university is allowed to take full charge of its operation, he added.
The South Metropolis Daily called Li an official with a "reform[ist] spirit" in a profile story of the former police chief published on Wednesday morning. His networks in the local government can help the university bypass the barriers to reform, the paper quoted analysts as saying.
Neither the university nor Zhu could not be reached for comment.
As of Wednesday morning, the university’s website had not yet reflected the changes, with Zhu’s name still topping the list of SUSTC officials and still titled as “President and Secretary of the Party Committee”.
In 2012, five years after its establishment was approved by the party, the university received its long-waited full accreditation from the Ministry of Education as an undergraduate college. “SUSTC can now go ahead with the reforms we’ve hoped for,” Zhu said at the time.
However, analysts said this status would mean less freedom for the university to push such reforms.
Among the SUSTC's radical moves was accepting 45 students without going through the national university entrance exam, called gaokao. This prompted three university advisers to resign.