Modernization Goals in the 1980s

China Table of Contents

The commitment to the Four Modernizations required great advances in science and technology. Under the modernization program, higher education was to be the cornerstone for training and research. Because modernization depended on a vastly increased and improved capability to train scientists and engineers for needed breakthroughs, the renewed concern for higher education and academic quality--and the central role that the sciences were expected to play in the Four Modernizations--highlighted the need for scientific research and training. This concern can be traced to the critical personnel shortages and qualitative deficiencies in the sciences resulting from the unproductive years of the Cultural Revolution, when higher education was shut down. In response to the need for scientific training, the Sixth Plenum of the Twelfth National Party Congress Central Committee, held in September 1986, adopted a resolution on the guiding principles for building a socialist society that strongly emphasized the importance of education and science.

Reformers realized, however, that the higher education system was far from meeting modernization goals and that additional changes were needed. The Provisional Regulations Concerning the Management of Institutions of Higher Learning, promulgated by the State Council in 1986, initiated vast changes in administration and adjusted educational opportunity, direction, and content. With the increased independence accorded under the education reform, universities and colleges were able to choose their own teaching plans and curricula; to accept projects from or cooperate with other socialist establishments for scientific research and technical development in setting up "combines" involving teaching, scientific research, and production; to suggest appointments and removals of vice presidents and other staff members; to take charge of the distribution of capital construction investment and funds allocated by the state; and to be responsible for the development of international exchanges by using their own funds.

The changes also allowed the universities to accept financial aid from work units and decide how this money was to be used without asking for more money from departments in charge of education. Further, higher education institutions and work units could sign contracts for the training of students.

Higher education institutions also were assigned a greater role in running interregional and interdepartmental schools. Within their state-approved budgets, universities secured more freedom to allocate funds as they saw fit and to use income from tuition and technical and advisory services for their own development, including collective welfare and bonuses.

There also was a renewed interest in television, radio, and correspondence classes. Some of the courses, particularly in the college-run factories, were serious, full-time enterprises, with a two-to three-year curriculum.

Entrance Examinations and Admission Criteria

National examinations to select students for higher education (and positions of leadership) were an important part of China's culture, and, traditionally, entrance to a higher education institution was considered prestigious. Although the examination system for admission to colleges and universities has undergone many changes since the Cultural Revolution, it remains the basis for recruiting academically able students. When higher education institutions were reopened in early 1970s, candidates for entrance examinations had to be senior-middle-school graduates or the equivalent, generally below twenty-six years of age. Work experience requirements were eliminated, but workers and staff members needed permission from their enterprises to take the examinations.

Each provincial-level unit was assigned a quota of students to be admitted to key universities, a second quota of students for regular universities within that administrative division, and a third quota of students from other provinces, autonomous regions, and special municipalities who would be admitted to institutions operated at the provincial level. Provincial-level administrative units selected students with outstanding records to take the examinations. Additionally, preselection examinations were organized by the provinces, autonomous regions, and special municipalities for potential students (from three to five times the number of places allotted). These candidates were actively encouraged to take the examination to ensure that a sufficient number of good applicants would be available. Cadres with at least two years of work experience were recruited for selected departments in a small number of universities on an experimental basis. Preferential admission treatment (in spite of lower test scores) was given to minority candidates, students from disadvantaged areas, and those who agreed in advance to work in less developed regions after graduation.

In December 1977, when uniform national examinations were reinstated, 5.7 million students took the examinations, although university placement was available for only the 278,000 applicants with the highest scores. In July 1984, about 1.6 million candidates (30,000 fewer than in 1983) took the entrance examinations for the 430,000 places in China's more than 900 colleges and universities. Of the 1.6 million examinees, more than 1 million took the test for placement in science and engineering colleges; 415,000 for places in liberal arts colleges; 88,000 for placement in foreign language institutions; and 15,000 for placement in sports universities and schools. More than 100,000 of the candidates were from national minority groups. A year later, there were approximately 1.8 million students taking the three day college entrance examination to compete for 560,000 places. Liberal arts candidates were tested on politics, Chinese, mathematics, foreign languages, history, and geography. Science and engineering candidates were tested on politics, Chinese, mathematics, chemistry, and biology. Entrance examinations also were given in 1985 for professional and technical schools, which sought to enroll 550,000 new students.

Other innovations in enrollment practices, included allowing colleges and universities to admit students with good academic records but relatively low entrance-examination scores. Some colleges were allowed to try an experimental student recommendation system--fixed at 2 percent of the total enrollment for regular colleges and 5 percent for teachers' colleges--instead of the traditional entrance examination. A minimum national examination score was established for admission to specific departments at specially designated colleges and universities, and the minimum score for admission to other universities was set by provinciallevel authorities. Key universities established separate classes for minorities. When several applicants attained the minimum test score, the school had the option of making a selection, a policy that gave university faculty and administrators a certain amount of discretion but still protected admission according to academic ability.

In addition to the written examination, university applicants had to pass a physical examination and a political screening. Less than 2 percent of the students who passed the written test were eliminated for reasons of poor health. The number disqualified for political reasons was known, but publicly the party maintained that the number was very small and that it sought to ensure that only the most able students actually entered colleges and universities.

By 1985 the number of institutions of higher learning had again increased--to slightly more than 1,000. The State Education Commission and the Ministry of Finance issued a joint declaration for nationwide unified enrollment of adult students--not the regular secondary-school graduates but the members of the work force who qualified for admission by taking a test. The State Education Commission established unified questions and time and evaluation criteria for the test and authorized provinces, autonomous regions, and special municipalities to administer the test, grade the papers in a uniform manner, and determine the minimum points required for admission. The various schools were to enroll students according to the results. Adult students needed to have the educational equivalent of senior-middle- school graduates, and those applying for release or partial release from work to study were to be under forty years of age. Staff members and workers were to apply to study job-related subjects with review by and approval of their respective work units. If employers paid for the college courses, the workers had to take entrance examinations. In 1985 colleges enrolled 33,000 employees from various enterprises and companies, approximately 6 percent of the total college enrollment.

In 1985 state quotas for university places were set, allowing both for students sponsored by institutions and for those paying their own expenses. This policy was a change from the previous system in which all students were enrolled according to guidelines established in Beijing. All students except those at teachers' colleges, those who had financial difficulties, and those who were to work under adverse conditions after graduation had to pay for their own tuition, accommodations, and miscellaneous expenses.

Changes in Enrollment and Assignment Policies

The student enrollment and graduate assignment system also was changed to reflect more closely the personnel needs of modernization. By 1986 the state was responsible for drafting the enrollment plan, which took into account future personnel demands, the need to recruit students from outlying regions, and the needs of trades and professions with adverse working conditions. Moreover, a certain number of graduates to be trained for the People's Liberation Army were included in the state enrollment plan. In most cases, enrollment in higher education institutions at the employers' request was extended as a supplement to the state student enrollment plan. Employers were to pay a percentage of training fees, and students were to fulfill contractual obligations to the employers after graduation. The small number of students who attended colleges and universities at their own expense could be enrolled in addition to those in the state plan.

Accompanying the changes in enrollment practices were reforms, adopted in 1986, in the faculty appointment system, which ended the "iron rice bowl" employment system and gave colleges and universities freedom to decide what departments, majors, and numbers of teachers they needed. Teachers in institutions of higher learning were hired on a renewable contract basis, usually for two to four years at a time. The teaching positions available on basis were teaching assistant, lecturer, associate professor, and professor. The system was tested in eight major universities in Beijing and Shanghai before it was instituted nationwide at the end of 1985. University presidents headed groups in charge of appointing professors, lecturers, and teaching assistants according to their academic levels and teaching abilities, and a more rational wage system, geared to different job levels, was inaugurated. Universities and colleges with surplus professors and researchers were advised to grant them appropriate academic titles and encourage them to work for their current pay in schools of higher learning where they were needed. The new system was to be extended to schools of all kinds and other education departments within two years.

Under the 1985 reforms, all graduates were assigned jobs by the state; a central government placement agency told the schools where to send graduates. By 1985 Qinghua University and a few other universities were experimenting with a system that allowed graduates to accept job offers or to look for their own positions. For example, of 1,900 Qinghua University graduates in 1985, 1,200 went on to graduate school, 48 looked for their own jobs, and the remainder were assigned jobs by the school after consultation with the students. The college students and postgraduates scheduled to graduate in 1986 were assigned primarily to work in forestry, education, textiles, and the armaments industry. Graduates still were needed in civil engineering, computer science, finance, and English.

Scholarship and Loan System

In July 1986 the State Council announced that the stipend system for university and college students would be replaced with a new scholarship and loan system. The new system, to be tested in selected institutions during the 1986-87 academic year, was designed to help students who could not cover their own living expenses but who studied hard, obeyed state laws, and observed discipline codes. Students eligible for financial aid were to apply to the schools and the China Industrial and Commercial Bank for low-interest loans. Three categories of students eligible for aid were established: top students encouraged to attain all-around excellence; students specializing in education, agriculture, forestry, sports, and marine navigation; and students willing to work in poor, remote, and border regions or under harsh conditions, such as in mining and engineering. In addition, free tuition and board were to be offered at teachers' colleges, and the graduates were required to teach at least five years in primary and middle schools. After graduation, a student's loans were to be paid off by his or her employer in a lump sum, and the money was to be repaid to the employer by the student through five years of payroll deductions.

Study Abroad

In addition to loans, another means of raising educational quality, particularly in science, was to send students abroad to study. A large number of Chinese students studied in the Soviet Union before educational links and other cooperative programs with the Soviet Union were severed in the late 1950s. In the 1960s and 1970s, China continued to send a small number of students abroad, primarily to European universities. In October 1978 Chinese students began to arrive in the United States; their numbers accelerated after normalization of relations between the two countries in January 1979, a policy consistent with modernization needs. Although figures vary, more than 36,000 students, including 7,000 self-supporting students (those who paid their own way, received scholarships from host institutions, or received help from relatives and "foreign friends"), studied in 14 countries between 1978 and 1984. Of this total, 78 percent were technical personnel sent abroad for advanced study. As of mid-1986 there were 15,000 Chinese scholars and graduates in American universities, compared with the total of 19,000 scholars sent between 1979 and 1983.

Chinese students sent to the United States generally were not typical undergraduates or graduate students but were mid-career scientists, often thirty-five to forty-five years of age, seeking advanced training in their areas of specialization. Often they were individuals of exceptional ability who occupied responsible positions in Chinese universities and research institutions. Fewer than 15 percent of the earliest arrivals were degree candidates. Nearly all the visiting scholars were in scientific fields.

Custom Search

Source: U.S. Library of Congress