From where I sit - The rise of the manager class

February 12, 2009

The increasing bureaucratisation and the ascendancy of managerialism in mainland China's universities has been a worry for some time, but now a scholar has produced data to show that the concerns are well founded.

Gu Haibing, of the People's University of China, conducted three projects to assess the problem. In the first, he examined the results of a major national social science study prize each year from 2003 to 2007.

He ranked the first author of each winning paper according to their administrative position, using seven categories ranging from university president to deputy dean. For example, the president would be assigned ten points, the deputy president eight and the deputy dean four.

To measure the level of bureaucratisation, he then calculated the average score of winning authors, and found that for the first prize the score was 2.846, for the second it was 2.009 and for the third it was 1.493.

He discovered that the subject of education had the highest level of bureaucratisation, with history the lowest.

In a follow-up study, Professor Gu adopted similar methodology to study nationally distinguished doctoral-degree dissertations and their tutors over the same period.

He found that, on average, the bureaucratisation score rose from 1.76 in 2003 to 4.17 in 2007.

In the third project, he looked at the websites of 50 mainland Chinese universities and 34 of their overseas counterparts.

He discovered that the number of news reports about leadership activities was three times higher on Chinese sites than on overseas ones.

Reports on academic matters, meanwhile, were twice as numerous on foreign sites as they were on Chinese ones.

In an interview with the Southern Weekly newspaper, Professor Gu traced the rise of bureaucratisation to 1998, when the status of 31 core universities was upgraded from department level to ministry level.

"Since then, funding and other resources have flowed into universities based on their administrative levels," he said.

Professor Gu's research has reignited interest in the problem.

One typical online post supporting him read: "Thank you for telling this open secret ... You have done valuable research, but what can we do about it?"

Writing in the Southern Weekly last year, Xiong Bingqi, deputy director of Jiao Tong University's 21st Century Education Research Institute, noted that there were administrative offices at Peking University, the same number as China's State Council after it was streamlined. There were also 33 such offices listed at Jiao Tong.

In recent years, scholars have started to voice their concerns about bureaucratisation more directly.

In 2005, He Weifang, a law professor at Peking University, called on the institution to stop enrolling graduate students, claiming that the state-run enrolment system was too bureaucratic and would endanger university self-governance.

In 2007, Chen Danqing, an arts professor, resigned from Tsinghua University for the same reason, and Zhang Ming, director of the department of political studies at the People's University, was dismissed after criticising the School of International Studies for being controlled by bureaucrats.

One of Professor Zhang's colleagues recalled that the former dean used to ride his bike to work and that cheeky students would jump on the back for a ride. Sadly, those were the good old days and are rapidly receding into memory.

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