Skip to comments.Where China Isn't Winning (America's Higher Education Leaves China in the Dust)
Posted on 02/17/2012 6:27:22 AM PST by SeekAndFind
American universities tower high above China when it comes to producing human capital, by far Americas greatest comparative advantage.
Consider two major news stories prominent in American discourse recently. First, China is rising. Second, American universities have had much abuse heaped upon them: declining standards, neoliberal corruption of academia and worries about universities exacerbating class divides.
Both of those stories might be overblown. An American only a few years separated from college life and now a lecturer at Chinas top university, I suggest that when it comes to higher education, American institutions are leaving Chinas in the dust.
The weaknesses of the Chinese classroom are more or less well-known: rote learning, an America-inspired fixation with metrics for professorial performance (scholarly publications) and students with upwards of twenty-five class hours per week, resulting in large class sizes.
Libraries, the cathedrals of learning necessary for any university, are not up to specification. Newly built yet still cramped, they contain a ragtag collection of discarded books from American universities. The typical American community college boasts about the same. Contrast this with formidable collections of Chinese literature at elite American institutions.
Housing facilities are also inferior. Students live four or six to a room, with a bathroom at the end of the hall. Thats not to say that American-style amenities are the way to gotheres obviously some waste. But exactly where is the emotional development on Chinese campuses? Amenities, perks and comfort zones might be what students need during four years of emotionally taxing, intensive social experiences.
The Extracurricular Advantage
It is in the less discussed extracurricular domain where American institutions really best their peers in the world. This is where the massive advantages the United States still enjoys in creating human capital are found.
China is a more conservative society than many Western ones. A narrow concept of learning is prioritized over wider notions of personal growth common to many Americans. Chinese students are not only less likely to graduate without pleasant and fulfilling romantic experiences, theyre also less likely to know themselves in many senses that Americans see as essential: tendencies under stress, life trajectory or, more practically, career preferences.
Chinese students seek release from stress just like everyonea little recreation or time to let go. But as for on-campus entertainment for students, China fails again. Lacking a student meeting hall, group meetings are often held in cafeterias amid the aroma of fried rice, above drips and drops of sauce and soup.
There is one extracurricular activity on campus with a serious following and predictable loyaltythe Communist Youth League. In China, educational openness stops where the Chinese Communist Party begins. And in Chinese universities, party tentacles reach down into every department and faculty, choking off potentially independent power structures, as recently seen in the undermined election effort of a popular Beijing professor running for the National Party Congress . Student bodies are often composed of either alienated, apolitical youth on the one hand and tooth-and-nail careerist, aspiring party members on the other.
Tsinghua University has a tradition of political interference. In the late 1940s, its president Mei Yiqi fled to Taiwan, where the nationalists established their own Tsinghua, an institution that still exists today. During the Cultural Revolution, some of Tsinghuas university and middle school students comprised Maos Red Guards, terrorizing the campus for much of the late 1960s. Tragically, the Red Guards themselves fell victim to violence when Mao judged them too powerful and subsequently pitted other student factions against them. Twelve students died in the summer of 1968 alone, with many others injured and abused. (Other stories are recounted by Johns Hopkins University professor Joel Andreas in The Rise of the Red Engineers.)
Last year was the one-hundredth anniversary of Tsinghuas founding, an event administrators felt was better commemorated through galas, music and Jackie Chan visits than historical reflection. Perhaps this is because the history is uncomfortable. Tsinghua was not a Chinese undertaking. It was rather a charitable act on behalf of Christian missionaries from America, making use of indemnity payments extracted from China after its Boxer Rebellion targeted foreigners, foreign interests and missionaries in the early twentieth century.
2011 was also the one-hundredth anniversary of the Xinhai Revolution in China, usually deemed the start of New China by Westerners. (The PRC prefers to label the 1949 communist victory as New Chinas beginning.) This was an especially inauspicious time, in any case, for the PRC to report that absconding government officials had embezzled over $120 billion , with many preferring to settle in the United States.
Like many Chinese elites, a large number of Tsinghua students will later seek graduate degrees in the United States. Tsinghua estimates that 4060 percent of graduates who study abroad do not return. The government has tried to stop this brain drain by providing money for talented researchers , especially Chinese scientists already established abroad. This is not easy, one professor explains, when funding in the PRC has traditionally been divvied up based on connections.
A Long Grind
Suicide rates are a controversial subject on Chinese campuses, so much so that neither universities nor the government publish statistics. Suicide here can be partly attributed to the immediate material pressures weighing upon Chinese students.
Despite economic growth around them, Chinese students face tremendous pressure from their future job searches, especially since the growth touted by the Chinese Communist Party represents Chinas mastery of manufacturing and assembly, manual labor that Chinese graduates have no interest in. And even Chinese qualified to work at Western firms have high turnover  due to gaps in education, including a lack of creativity, flexibility and communication.
For Chinas next generation, the road ahead is not paved in gold, nor is it very inviting. Lest this be cause for American reliefthat somewhere, someone is worse offAmericans should remember that economic links render Chinas future important to the United States. And if the future of China is in part seen in its universities, there is cause for concern. Every day Im reminded that the students I engage with here are in the midst of a great grind through a troubled, antiquated systemand then outward into a China moving faster than it can handle.
David Lundquist is a lecturer of Western philosophy at Tsinghua University in Beijing.
That's right. When it comes to the number of Communists on campus, American universities win.
How can that be? The sources of higher education for Chinese nationals and natives of the U.S. are the SAME...
Or, at any rate, it seemed that way when I was in graduate school...
Check out he number of Chinese National students in our Engineering and Science classes at the most prestigeous universities. The current VP and soon to be President of China has a kid in Harvard.
The article seems to focus on the periphery of education rather than the core. So the dorms aren’t as nice and students have to get together in a cafeteria instead of specialized meeting rooms. Bravo Foxtrot Delta. What about the education itself? How do Chinese physics, computer science or even history degrees compare to American ones? In which direction is each of them going? That is what is important not: “But exactly where is the emotional development on Chinese campuses? Amenities, perks and comfort zones might be what students need during four years of emotionally taxing, intensive social experiences.”
Or, at any rate, it seemed that way when I was in graduate school...
Huge difference. Beijing University doesn't have nearly as many Indians in class with the Chinese as an American university. :-)
“Like many Chinese elites, a large number of Tsinghua students will later seek graduate degrees in the United States.”
This is so true. My company manages a building with fairly cheap rents near Northwestern University, and there are many Chinese grad students who stay there, and in fact have their rent paid for by American companies that are looking to hire them after they get their Comp Sci or Engineering degrees.
Ours teach communism much more efficiently and effectively.
this guy is dleusional.... like so many from the US academe community. He seems to think that ‘emotional growth’ is the true sign of an excellent education. Really? So if you are an engineering student it is more important to learn to socialize than to know the fundamentals of your field????
This is why the US will continue to decline
I remember that stupid “Shift Happens” video that claims that China has more honor students then America has people or some such bull.
I thought, “by honor student, do they mean the people that get to assemble my remote controller?”
RE: How can that be? The sources of higher education for Chinese nationals and natives of the U.S. are the SAME...
MIT — Made in Taiwan
UCLA — University of Caucasians Lost among Asians
UCI: University of Chinese Immigrants
UCSB: University of Casual Sex and Beer
SDSU: Still Drunk, Still Uneducated
UNH : University of New Hongkong
UCB = University of Communists at Berkeley
USC = University of Southern Chinese
UNC = University of Northern Chinese
This caused a massive movement to off-shoring. Over time, though, it became clear that their educations were cursory in most cases and their English poor to none. Now, they are making huge strides in both countries, but the myth is still stronger than the reality.
While I wish he had actually delved into academic metrics of education - one thing is certain.
Years of learning the Chinese way can cripple independent thought and initiative.
Working alongside many Chinese students in science classes I have noticed that many are absolutely incapable of thinking “outside the box” - they are not even aware of “the box” as they describe EVERYTHING in terms of brown cardboard.
My, this is an interesting article.
So, our red campuses are better than theirs?