Model doesn't stand up

June 24, 2010

As a graduate of the University of Hong Kong and a professor at two Chinese universities, I was bemused to read Simon Marginson's article on the "Confucian model" of education ("Tigers burning bright", 17 June).

This lumping together of everyone who happens to look Chinese is very problematic. The university system in Hong Kong, for example, was instituted by the British and the universities there follow the British model, as do those in Singapore. I am unsure how they can be considered "Confucian". In Japan, there are big differences between the former imperial universities and the newer private or public universities.

In other words, this Samuel Huntington-inspired Confucian world is incredibly diverse, if it exists at all.

Marginson lists the attributes of the "Confucian model" as the "rapid growth of tertiary participation", an "efflorescence of research funding and activity" and close control by the state. Arguably, the first two conditions were satisfied in the UK under New Labour while the (temporary) good times lasted, and the final attribute cannot be said to exist in Hong Kong, Japan or even Taiwan nowadays.

Marginson throws numerous random statistics at us, but I am not clear what he is trying to say. Citing the increase of scientific papers published in China is not evidence of a shift in the "global balance of power" (whatever that may be). Is he aware that the overwhelming majority of these papers are in Chinese, therefore making a minimal/non-existent impact on the global academy? More seriously, has he checked the quality of a lot of these publications?

I am concerned that this sort of analysis builds barriers rather than bridges and encourages the discourse of "Us" versus "Them" (including the regrettably only "half-Confucian" Vietnamese). Marginson's argument somewhat smacks of the rather ridiculous "China Threat" thesis extended to the classroom.

Ian Taylor, Professor of international relations, University of St Andrews

Joint professor, Renmin University of China

Honorary professor, Zhejiang Normal University, China.

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