[photopress:MBA_John_Turek.jpg,full,alignright]In London at the Worldwide Universities Network conference some fascinatingn points came out:
China is now the largest higher education system in the world: it awards more university degrees than the USA and India combined.
Of course, quantity is not everything. Quality counts. But it is an indicator of how major education is in China.
It a sobering warning to those who decry the relatively modest ambitions of the British government to aim for 50% of young people having some experience of higher education.
In China the rate of university expansion has been beyond anything anyone in the West can easily imagine.
University enrollments in China have reportedly risen from under 10% of young people in 1999 to over 21% in 2006.
As recently as 1996, China produced just 5,000 PhD students a year. About half the number in the UK, Japan or India.
Since then, China has overtaken every other country in the world except the US in terms of the numbers of doctoral degrees awarded.
[photopress:MBA_chinese_students.jpg,full,alignright]The number is 34,000 in 2006 and, based on current enrolments, this will surge past 50,000 a year in just three or four years moving past the current world leader, the US.
This is due to a conscious policy of investment in higher education. According to Dr John Turek, seen here, director of IBM’s China Technology Institute, China was spending just 1% of GDP on higher education in 1998. Now the target figure for 2007 is 4%.
The Worldwide Universities’ Network conference heard many of the facts about China’s expansion from Professor Wei Yang, president of Zhejiang University, one of the country’s largest.
His message about China’s rapid growth in undergraduate and postgraduate numbers, not to mention research projects and citations, will certainly remind British universities that it is a risky policy to rely too heavily on the fees from Chinese students coming to study in the UK.
China remains the largest provider of overseas students to British campuses but it is now clear that the much lower costs, and rising prestige, of Chinese universities will make this a tougher market in future.
As David Eastwood, chief executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England, told the conference: ‘We cannot assume that students will continue to come to the UK just because they always have’.
Cost is only part of the calculation. China now has three universities in the top 100 plus another two if you include Hong Kong. Across Asia as a whole, the number of universities in the top 100 has risen to 13.
British universities will need to have a genuinely international outlook, and the higher education system needs to keep growing, if Britian is to a remain leading player on the world stage.