China is ramping up its ideological campaign with a national conference to show how “Xi Jinping Thought”, the president’s political theory, has influenced university students. The conference is part of a series of measures – including boosting teacher numbers, changing the curriculum and opening research centres – designed to instil in China’s next generation the ideology of the ruling Communist Party. “Improving the quality of ideological and political education will remain a tough war in the years to come as we need to completely change how ideology and politics is taught,” Education Minister Chen Baosheng said on Friday. Chinese culture ministry merger in the works in renewed overseas soft power push Xi has tried to expand the role of the party in all aspects of life in China since taking office in 2012 by increasing its presence in areas where it previously had a limited role. In 2016, he vowed to turn campuses into “strongholds of the party’s leadership” to ensure orthodox Marxism dominated the thinking of academics and students. Outspoken academics who have openly criticised the party or its leaders have been punished or silenced. Chinese universities tighten ideological control of teaching staff Chen said the conference would show students’ progress in learning Xi’s political theory, a year on from the campaign’s introduction, without giving further details. “University students across the nation will be asked to demonstrate in a national conference what they have learned from Xi Jinping’s socialist ideology with Chinese characteristics in a new era,” Chen said on the sidelines of the National People’s Congress in Beijing. As part of the drive, the education ministry planned to bring in a new curriculum, new assessment criteria and better qualified teachers who will be specially trained in ideological education in the coming year, he said. Those already teaching ideology and politics would be retrained. The ministry will also run pilot schemes aimed at winning the hearts and minds of new university students and send more postgraduates to rural areas for ideological training. “We must chew on the hard bones such as addressing the ideological and political thinking of teachers, the curriculum and also cyberspace, as they remain the development obstacles,” Chen said. The ministry also plans to set up “innovative teaching and research centres” to come up with more modern ways of teaching the subject. How Chinese overseas students are learning harsh life lessons Mainland university students are required to take compulsory lectures on ideology and politics during the first two years of their course – normally in the form of an 80-minute lecture every week. Some of the courses were in demand, according to the minister. “Some ideological and political courses are so popular that they are as hard to get as high-speed train tickets during the [Lunar New Year] transport crunch,” he said. But that was not the experience of one fourth-year university student in Guangzhou, who did not want to be named. She said students might be more motivated about studying the subject if it was combined with current affairs. “I wish the exam could focus more on its applications rather than theoretical knowledge,” she said. The education minister had a different take. Citing the first in-depth study carried out by the ministry since communist China was founded, Chen said 91 per cent of the 30,000-plus university students polled in the past year were inspired by political education lectures.