A high-ranking Ministry of Education official has admitted that the massive expansion of university enrolment that began in 1999 was a decision made in haste, and has resulted in lower-quality higher education.
While a spokesman from the Ministry has denied that such an admission was ever made it seems at the very least possible and has provoked a major debate in Chinese academe.
Most major newspapers discussing the Times University Rankings highlighted the fact that Peking University, considered to be the most prestigious in mainland China, had dropped from 14th place in 2006 to 36th in 2007 and then to 50th in 2008.
But the rankings attracted little comment from scholars or officials from the Ministry.
The reason for their apparent indifference may lie in the fact that in August, the Graduate School of Education at Shanghai Jiao Tong University published its 2008 Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU). In these, Peking University was ranked 240th — down from 228th in 2007.
The author, Hong Bing, is associate professor, School of Journalism, Fudan University, Shanghai.