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China plans for HEIs to be ranked as ‘world class’ by 2050

The Chinese government has announced plans to have 42 top universities included in top rankings by 2050, following similar moves in the 1990s.

Peking University in Beijing is one of the 42 named HEIs in the new project.Peking University in Beijing is one of the 42 named HEIs in the new project. Photo: Flickr/ bfishadow

The President Xi Jinping's newly launched project has named 42 HEIs

The “Double World Class Project” was first hinted at in 2015, and has sometimes been referred to as the “Double First Class Project”.

“Everyone dreams of having China’s own world-class universities as competitive as Harvard, Yale, Oxford, and Cambridge”

Along with the ‘world class’ aims, the project will attempt to boost the quality of 456 disciplines across 95 universities by the middle of the 21st century.

The project hopes to achieve its ambitious aim by pumping both central government money, and the best high school graduates in the nation, into the selected universities.

It is hoped that by shoe-horning academic talent into the chosen institutions, the HEIs will gain in reputation and academic excellence, thereby forcing further recognition from global ranking organisations.

Jack Moran at QS told The PIE News that the university ranking and research company see this aim as viable.

“We certainly think that it’s realistic – in fact, likely. After all, China has doubled its share of top-100 universities from 3 to 6 since 2015, and Nanjing University may well make it seven soon,” he said.

The most-read newspaper in China revealed in a recent edition why the goal had been set.

“The concept of ranking is deeply rooted in Chinese culture,” according to the People’s Daily, which went on to explain that “people in China, ranging from national leaders, university presidents, to the general public, admire prestigious schools to great [a] extent”.

“Everyone dreams of having China’s own world-class universities as competitive as Harvard, Yale, Oxford, and Cambridge”, the paper continued.

The new initiative differs from the prior efforts, at least in terms of trajectory.

In 1995, President Jiang Zemin launched Project 211, with intentions to boost the academic rigour of 100 universities across the nation. Four years later, 985 Project was initiated, with the goal of creating 40 research-intensive universities, which would also look outward in order to have an international impact, and increase the visibility of Chinese research globally.

The President Xi Jinping’s newly launched project has named only 42 HEIs, perhaps indicating a concentrated vision, moving away from the much wider goals of previous efforts.

However, all 985 Project institutions are also included in this new measure, and of the disciplines chosen to reach the lofty heights of ‘world-class’ by mid-century, almost all are taught at Project 211 universities.

But funding will be key, Moran noted. Tsinghua University has revenues of around US$2bn, but that “pales in comparison to the resources at the disposal of, say, Harvard, MIT, or Stanford (this year’s global top three), all of which have endowments in excess of $10 billion,” he said. 

“A process of peer competition, expert review, and government evaluation” was used to choose the institutions for the program, according to a joint release from the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Finance.

China currently has two universities in the THE top 100 world rankings (out of a total of ,880 HEIs), in Tsinghua (14) and Peking (17). Tsinghua University was the first Chinese institution to break into the THE top 20, in 2016.

Six institutions make it into the QS rankings, although Moran notes, that number have have “plateaued”, as “over the past three years, Tsinghua – for example – has moved from 25th, to 24th, and back to 25th again”. 

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