China looks to universities to lead development of its mid-west

New schools of future technologies and modern industries part of 10.7 billion yuan plan

January 16, 2022
Students who learn fine arts paint a 'library' with 3D design on stairways at Lanzhou University to illustrate China looks to universities to lead development of its mid-west
Source: Getty

China is seeking to turbocharge the development of its lagging mid-west by bankrolling a significant expansion of the region’s higher education system.

The Ministry of Education is encouraging universities in central and western China to help create new institutions focused on modern industries, future technologies, intelligent agriculture and public health. Well-established universities in cities such as Xi’an, Lanzhou, Chongqing and Chengdu could be used as “strategic pivots”, a press conference heard.

The vast mid-west accounts for more than half of China’s universities, lecturers and students, but has traditionally lagged in economic and social development. Some 10.7 billion yuan (£1.2 billion) was allocated to boost the region’s development under the last national five-year plan, with the new education proposals seeking to break down province-based administrative divisions and promote regional educational clusters.

“I think the new infrastructure has two aims in mind: military and economic concerns,” said Edmond Law, an adjunct professor at the Education University of Hong Kong. “The new schools are strategically planned to reorganise and strengthen infrastructure of research (universities), development (newly established institutions), and dissemination (regional needs).”

Dr Law added that the new institutions were likely to be polytechnic-style institutions, aimed at preparing younger generations to develop innovative projects that will prove useful to their home regions.

Revitalising the mid-west has been a priority of China’s higher education policy since 2012, with a new “road map” focusing on the issue published last September.

“[There is] a global trend of educational improvement that balances both quality and equity,” said Jun Li, a professor in the Faculty of Education at Canada’s Western University. “China is a bit late in developing such a vision for a systemic turn, but it is never too late to catch up.”

Professor Li has researched education policy in western China and suggested that the gap in “high-tech and intelligent sectors, entrepreneurial and innovative industries” between urban and rural areas was one of the drivers behind the new plan.

“Universities in less developed regions are traditionally disadvantaged in many aspects, eg, governance structure and culture, funding, leading researchers and teachers, and other resources. They all demand a more open and favourable environment that has to be created and nurtured through the internationalisation process for systemic and institutional improvement,” Professor Li said.

“In the long run, the governance structure and culture must be changed to retain existing high-quality talents and recruit innovative talents with a global vision and world-class capacities.”

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