Realising the importance of creating a more conducive environment to produce high quality professional and globally competitive talents who can cope with the ever-changing social and economic challenges generated domestically, regionally and globally, the Chinese government has made serious attempts to diversify higher education learning opportunities for Chinese citizens. With the aspiration to develop its own world-class universities, the Chinese government changed its attitude toward transnational higher education (TNE) and began to encourage cooperation with foreign higher education institutions, especially world-renowned ones, to tap into overseas educational experience and resources and transform universities in mainland China. Thus, as China’s State Council and Ministry of Education have noted, different forms of transnational cooperation emerged in 2004. These ranged from offering overseas institutions transnational programmes to founding university campuses on mainland China, with a partnership between the local universities and overseas institutions co-developing
and co-managing such TNE cooperation. The internationalisation of higher education that has taken place in China has significantly transformed student learning, multiplying graduate pathways and offering a wider range of graduates who have international perspectives in analysis, broadened knowledge, and enhanced communications skills to be sensitive to complex social, cultural, economic and political issues.
RECENT TRENDS AND DEVELOPMENTS
Comparatively, by 1995, TNE had increased nine times. By the end of 2007, about 31 countries/regions in different continents had reached agreements with the Chinese authorities for collaborations in joint programmes or to offer TNE programmes in the mainland. In the latest list of approved Chinese-Foreign Cooperation in Running Schools (CFCRS) institutions and programs from the Ministry of Education regarding higher education (including both undergraduate and postgraduate levels), among 27 approved CFCRS institutions currently
operating in China, only two — the University of Nottingham-Ningbo in Zhejiang province and the Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business in Guangdong province — were not established through collaborations between foreign institutions and local public higher education institutions. The University of Nottingham Ningbo China (UNNC) was founded by the University of Nottingham from the UK and the privately-owned Zhejiang Wanli Education Group in 2004, and legally became the first CFCRS University in China. Intriguingly, the Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business was founded in 2002 in Beijing by Hong Kong’s most successful tycoon and entrepreneur, Li Ka Shing.
According to the Chinese State Council and Ministry of Education, its “local partner” is Shantou University, but its foreign partner is the Li Ka Shing Foundation, not an educational institution, as required by the Ministry of Education. In addition, in its official website, the Graduate School identifies itself as “China’s first private, non-profit, and independent business school.”
With the encouragement of the Chinese government, different forms of cooperation, such as major Sino-foreign cooperation programmes, secondtier colleges and cooperation universities were established in mainland China to internationalise student learning. According to the Ministry of Education, up to March 2016, there were 1,180 Sino-foreign cooperative institutions and projects approved by it, with 751 Sino-foreign cooperative institutions and projects approved by provincial governments and local departments of education for a total of 1,931 cooperative institutions and projects.
Recent statistics show that the number of students enrolled at all levels in all types of Sino-foreign cooperative educational institutions was about 550,000 in 2014, including 45,000 college students.
With the rapid development of these TNE activities, there were more than 1,500,000 graduates from Sino-foreign cooperative educational institutions recorded in 2014.
RAPID RISE OF TNE AND CHALLENGES FOR UNIVERSITY GOVERNANCE
A) Educational Governance and Management
The rapid growth of TNE in mainland China has caused significant challenges for educational governance. If we put the rapid development of TNE into the wider context of the growing marketisation in higher education since the economic reform in 1980s, especially when different kinds of minban or quasi-minban (such as second-tier colleges or independent colleges in affiliation with national universities) higher education have increased in number, we would argue that the proliferation of higher education has inevitably challenged the conventional governance model of higher education. In critically reviewing the rapid development of TNE in China, we can discern the problems that have emerged during the process, such as the unclear share of profits, the undefined quality assurance agency, the excessive use of the brand names of the overseas partners, and the blurring boundaries between the public and private aspects of TNE. These could largely be ascribed to the failure of regulatory framework, particularly when the existing legal and regulatory framework is inappropriate and ineffective in governing these newly-formed institutions.
B) Quality Assurance and Academic Standard
One of the challenges confronting the operation of TNE in mainland China is related to the academic quality of these programmes, especially when some institutions face difficulty in finding sufficient high quality lecturers to teach students in English. There is also a concern as to whether students enrolled in TNE programmes are indeed well prepared, in terms of English proficiency. The growing diversity in the ownership structure of higher education institutions (public and private-run, overseas-run and different forms of joint ventures) has inevitably challenged conventional educational governance, such as supervision and quality assurance.
Existing governmental instruments can no longer ensure quality standards effectively. Due to these circumstances a number of operating institutions offer substandard quality in teaching while charging high fees. The diversification of providers in higher education has rendered the conventional education governance model inappropriate. Therefore, the Chinese government should attempt to review its strategies in governing this increasingly complex and diverse higher education sector through adopting a corporate regulatory framework, civil society-led regulatory systems or international benchmarking that evolves to suit highly diversified sectors or markets.
MOK KA HO
Mok Ka Ho is Vice-President and Chair Professor of Comparative Policy of Lingnan University, Hong Kong.