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The Transformation of China’s Key Science and Technology Universities in the Move to Mass Higher Education

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China’s key science and technology universities are modelled on the French École Polytechnique. As such, they are utilitarian institutions, rooted in the concept of cultivating manpower for society’s economic progress, and tending to ignore the development of the individual. As China’s elite higher education system took in a rapidly increasing number of students in the recent massification process, China’s key science and technology universities underwent reform to become more comprehensive in curricular offerings and more research-oriented in function. The authors have uncovered an interesting phenomenon: Despite repeated discussion in academic circles, this transformation was never actually a conscious strategic choice for universities. Only when the Chinese government launched a program of higher education “massification” did universities develop their own unique reform strategies in a move to become more comprehensive and more research oriented. The authors have adopted a multi-stream analysis framework to describe and analyze three case study universities: University of Science and Technology of China (USTC), Huazhong University of Science and Technology (HUST), and Northwest Agriculture and Forestry University (NWAFU). It was found that Chinese universities already have quite a high level of autonomy, but that the government still has the power to make strategic decisions. Each university’s decision-making mechanism has been an independent process within the constraints of the political economic structure over this period, and policy-making has combined top-down and bottom-up processes.


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