Merger cure for Chinese growing pains

September 15, 1995

Higher education in China has expanded too rapidly in the opinion of responsible government body, the State Education Commission.

To improve efficiency and academic capacity, more than 100 universities and colleges are to be merged to form some 40 new institutions. A number of departments and faculties will be axed as "superfluous".

China currently has about 1,100 universities and higher colleges, many of them seriously underfunded. Some newer universities exhibit considerable shortcomings, ranging from "irrational" campus lay-out to "unbalanced" faculty to student ratios and the over-development of "unnecessary" faculties and schools, according to the SEC.

The mergers have already begun, and are taking place "smoothly", says the SEC, with local authorities playing a key role.

The official SEC statement on mergers issued via China's Xinhua news agency, gives no explanation of how the excess of universities came into being. The SEC itself must bear some of the responsibility. But Chinese socialist planning devolves considerable decision-making power to provincial and local authorities, and some, at least, of the excess universities seem to have been founded as a means of raising the prestige of province or municipality.

Last year a somewhat similar cost-cutting shake-up in the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences was partly blamed on the fact that over the past few years, most major Chinese cities had for prestige reasons set up their own social sciences research establishments, which simply duplicated each others' work.

The local authorities now pushing through the mergers are doubtless trying to distance themselves from the fact that the redundant universities were established at all.

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