Culture

Expanding the enrollment of Doctoral Students, what’s happening in China’s higher education?

With the epidemic raging and the pressure on China’s economic operation becoming greater, the biggest headache for the Chinese government every year is the employment of college graduates. 

At this critical moment, many universities in China have announced the expansion of Doctoral Students enrollment, and more than 40 colleges and universities, including Renmin University of China, Nankai University, Southeast University, Shanghai Jiaotong University, and the University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, have issued enrollment rules one after another. The total enrollment of Doctoral students will reach 100,000. 

Debate on the expansion of enrollment in higher Education

Although the Ministry of Education explained that the plan to expand enrollment was decided as early as 2018 and only officially implemented in 2020, it has still sparked discussion among the Chinese people about the continuous expansion of higher education in the past 30 years, especially in the context of COVID-19 ‘s rampant enrollment.

Those who support the expansion believe that compared with developed countries, China’s Doctoral students enrollment and training scale is actually very small.

The total population of China is 4.3 times that of the United States, and the number of doctoral graduates is less than 1/3 of that of the United States.

There are also many people who oppose the expansion of university enrollment.

They believe that every year, a large number of college students in China are unable to find a suitable job, and the continuous expansion of university enrollment is of no benefit to solving the employment problem.

In addition, with the expansion of the enrollment scale of universities, the quality of college graduates has declined significantly, and there have been constant attacks on the phenomenon of high scores and low skills in the society. 

Some people think that the industrialization of education brought about by the expansion of university enrollment has pushed up the cost of education expenditure for ordinary families. The cost of education paid by these families is obviously unrewarded, because the salary of many ordinary college graduates are much lower than those of industrial workers. College study requires high tuition fees and a long time as a cost, many parents invest in this cost, but students can not get higher wages after learning, in a way, this is a kind of investment failure.

The study of the university is mainly the study of the major. The expansion of enrollment leads to more students unable to find relevant professional jobs after graduation, which is a great waste of educational resources. Many people think that China should learn from Western countries, start vocational education as soon as possible, and divert some students, instead of all students determined to go to college, which will help to build a talent echelon that is more in line with the operation of the national economy. 

Whether there is “over-education” in Chinese society has become a new topic. 

How to evaluate the gains and losses of the expansion of higher education enrollment in China in recent years? We have to start with the expansion of enrollment for the first time in history.

The History of enrollment expansion of higher Education in China

In 1998, the Asian financial crisis broke out, although China is not the main disaster-affected country, but many people predict that China is the next target to be affected. How to prevent the financial crisis became the most important issue for the Chinese government at that time. 

To make matters worse, China carried out the reform of state-owned enterprises in 1998, and a large number of employees of state-owned enterprises were laid off. It is conservatively estimated that 15 million workers in China have lost their jobs.

In 1998, China enrolled 1 million college students every year, and if the enrollment doubled every year within three years, these students would need four years of undergraduate education to enter the labor market to look for jobs. This means that at least 1/3 laid-off workers will be exempt from direct competition with young people for job opportunities. With these buffers, there will be much less pressure on laid-off workers.

For the Chinese government, higher education and vocational education are both important means to regulate the labor market. In addition, it is also an important consideration for the protection of young people, especially for young people who are not deeply involved in the world. if they are allowed to enter the labor market hastily, they are likely to be infringed upon by bad factory owners.

Another reason for China’s decisive decision to expand the enrollment of college students is the persistent pursuit of Chinese parents to let their children “go to school”, and the government’s expectation of stimulating the economy through the education industry is also a contributing factor. 

Friends in the United States may hear how persistent Chinese Americans are in getting their children into a good university. Chinese parents can put up with poor food and clothing, but they will try their best to provide their children with the best education. This matter is difficult for many overseas people to understand. 

2018 parents waiting for the end of the college entrance examination outside a college entrance examination hall in Fujian Province. via WikiMedia

As a matter of fact, under the influence of Confucian culture for thousands of years, most Chinese parents have always believed that “To be a scholar is to be the top of society.”(万般皆下品惟有读书高)

Of course, it is influenced not so much by Confucian culture as by the “imperial examination” system. Although the imperial examination system was abolished at the end of the Qing Dynasty, civil servants still need to select talents through special examinations. In a sense, “imperial examination” has always existed in Chinese society. The respect for the imperial examination will naturally extend to the respect for academic qualifications.

My hometown, Jiangsu Province, once tried to promote vocational education for junior high school students, and later this policy was not only criticized by the local people. Later, when the party secretary of Jiangsu Province inspected the policy, he said bluntly that the policy was “too cruel”. 

Jiangsu is one of the most developed provinces in China, the Development Index is close to that of developed countries, and the local people are mild, but when it comes to education, parents will still exert great power, which shows that Chinese society attaches great importance to education.

My girlfriend is a PH.D in sociology, and it is very difficult to get a doctorate. In fact, when looking for a job, there is no absolute advantage over a master’s degree in China, which can be said to be very uneconomical. However, when she first decided whether to study for a doctorate or not, she simply thought it was good.

This subconsciousness actually exists in the minds of most Chinese people.

At the same time, China’s state-owned enterprises and the government also have an enigmatic attachment to education. If a graduate’s highest education is a doctor, when they enter the civil service, they can directly obtain the treatment of “section level” or even “deputy office”, which is equivalent to “town head” or “deputy county head”.

This is a piece of news in 2013, which reported that a recruitment of sanitation workers in Harbin, Heilongjiang Province, attracted 7186 interviewees, of whom 2954 had bachelor’s degrees and 29 had master’s degrees.

In China’s administrative system, promotion, evaluation of professional titles and other key joints, education is often the decisive factor. Many key official positions often have direct requirements for academic qualifications, and most senior Chinese officials choose to pursue further studies after work. Although there is often no inevitable relationship between academic qualifications and management ability, it is easy to be ridiculed by the public if an official’s educational background is not high enough, the school is not good enough, or even the way of admission is not admitted through the college entrance examination.

Under the fanatical atmosphere of Chinese society for academic qualifications, it is only natural for the Chinese government to stimulate the economy by expanding the enrollment scale of universities and developing the education industry. 

At this point, the expansion of higher education enrollment in China is very much like the cleverness of the government, but today, we can see a different result. China has gradually become the second largest economic power in the world and the No.1 manufacturing power in the world. In fact, these are inextricably linked with the expansion of university enrollment. 

In the past three decades, China’s progress mainly depends on industrialization and urbanization, and the main driving force of urbanization is college students. 

Compared with the real society, college friendship is relatively pure, and students from different economic levels are more likely to become friends here.

A large number of rural children have been admitted to universities and have been given the opportunity to live in big cities for four years and more. During these four years, they have formed a deep relationship with their classmates who used to live in the city, and they can familiarize themselves with the streets of the city on weekends. 

Chinese universities can provide cheap accommodation and food, which even poorer families can afford, and student loans and scholarships can basically cover most of the expenses.

The expansion of enrollment began in 1999.

In 2003, China has established a quite perfect student aid system. As long as students who can be admitted to universities are not likely to drop out of school because of their family conditions. But for extremely poor families, higher education is still a luxury. 

As we all know, China has a very strict household registration system, but many areas regard college education or above as the basic conditions for settling down. So in the past few decades, the main force of China’s urbanization is this batch after batch of college students.

Liu Shenglong, an associate professor at the School of Public Administration of Tsinghua University, once did a study. The empirical study found that, although the impact of higher education on life satisfaction of all samples was not significant, in the rural samples, this paper found evidence that higher education improved life satisfaction. 

The improvement of life satisfaction of rural residents is largely due to urbanization. 

Urbanization and industrialization are a pair of egg brothers. If China wants to industrialize, it needs a large number of advanced labor force. If it does not expand enrollment, it will not be enough for the society to rely on 1 million college graduates each year. No matter how well educated they are, they will not be able to meet the needs of the whole society for higher labor force. 

In 1998, the number of college students in China was only 7.8 million, accounting for 9.8% of their peers, which is not only much lower than the level of developed countries, but also below the level of 15% of the minimum standard for the popularization of international higher education. In terms of the average proportion of college students per 10,000 people, China is also much lower than India. Training more college students is a very realistic need for development.

This is why China began to expand its enrollment in higher education from that era.

The influence of the expansion of enrollment in higher Education

Objectively speaking, the expansion of enrollment has an impact on the quality of education. The infrastructure that used to serve 1 million students in the past will serve 2 million students only two years later, which is difficult to achieve.

In the early days of the enrollment expansion policy, there were many simple houses in the school as classrooms. The conditions of the dormitory are still very poor, with seven people crammed into a dormitory originally designed for four people. In a big class, a teacher often faces nearly two hundred students. 

In order to ensure the guidance of the experiment, the instructor had to have dinner in the laboratory, busy from morning until late at night. An experimenter instructed more than 100 students, running around, unable to meet the students’ questions. 

Although teachers have worked hard, this still can not stop the decline of teaching quality.

But for many jobs, an appropriate reduction in the level of higher education will not hinder work efficiency. Especially at that time, China’s economy was not so developed, and many companies were at the end of the industrial division of labor chain. A college student with a higher level of education was not as good as three college students who were slightly worse. Therefore, from the perspective of society, what is urgently needed is more highly educated labor force, not better ones. The expansion of enrollment solved the problem.

Researchers from Jinan University found that the expansion of university enrollment has a positive effect on the total innovation output of inland provinces, but at the same time has a significant negative impact on efficiency, and the regional innovation efficiency after enrollment expansion will decrease by about 35.7% due to policy shocks. From the perspective of continuous impact, the higher the proportion of “new college students” trained after enrollment expansion in the population of higher education, the lower the average innovation efficiency of R & D personnel in this region. To put it simply, the expansion of enrollment has achieved the effect of sacrificing quality for quantity. Although the level of individual personnel is about 30% lower than before, the overall effect has still been improved due to the doubling of quantity.

Although many enterprises complain that the wages of college students are high and their work is not as good as ordinary workers, they still continue to recruit college students into the company.

Although these college students seem a little childish when they first work, once they enter the state of work, their potential is much higher than that of ordinary industrial workers. Because these college students have mastered the scientific working methods, they will try to constantly revise their work content and improve their efficiency. Although the quality of four years of undergraduate education is not necessarily high, it must have planted the seeds.

Generally speaking, through the expansion of higher education enrollment, although the individual output capacity of college students has declined, due to the increase in number, the economic and technological strength of Chinese society as a whole has been going downhill. The rapid development of Chinese enterprises is inseparable from the expansion of higher education enrollment, and enterprises only pay very low salaries for it.

He Yu, a scholar of Hunan University, has written a paper on the impact of university enrollment expansion on China’s economy. The study found that the increase in the number of college graduates after enrollment expansion has a promoting effect on urban industrial upgrading as a whole, which is significantly different in cities of different sizes, especially in big cities, which echoes the “urbanization” mentioned above.

In this regard, Tang Min, the policy maker of the expansion of higher education enrollment, concluded: “I think the expansion of university enrollment in China is another milestone in the development of education in China, which is as important as the resumption of the college entrance examination that year. Like all major reform measures, there are many problems in the process of enrollment expansion, but I still insist that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages, the direction is right, and the longer time goes by, the more its importance and strategic significance can be revealed. “

Understanding the above reasons, it is not difficult to understand the Chinese government’s decision to expand the enrollment of master’s and doctoral students. 

From the perspective of cleverness, there are more and more Chinese college graduates, so getting them to do a master’s degree or a doctor’s degree is a very good way to delay employment. 

From the perspective of social development, China has begun to attack the high-end manufacturing industry, which needs more masters and PH.D to support. In fact, the Chinese government has never given up achieving the current status of the United States in the manufacturing field. For this reason, China needs more masters and doctorates.

However, with the further development of China, the expansion of university enrollment also highlights the most obvious problem is that it is not fair enough. 

According to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, the expansion of university enrollment has not reduced the gap in educational opportunities between classes, nationalities and genders, but has led to an increase in educational inequality between urban and rural areas. 

It is obvious that education in China has a long way to go. Instead of discussing whether universities should expand their enrollment, they should focus more on how to enable the poor to attend universities. 

Obviously, the evaluation of the expansion of enrollment in the mainstream voice of Chinese society is based on the perspective of “return on investment”. In fact, very few people really speak for the poor. However, the balance between fairness and efficiency is not something this article has the ability to discuss. This article can only explain the gains and losses of this policy of the Chinese government from a macro point of view, but there is an ordinary family under the macro number. It needs more capable people to do in-depth research.

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