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Eastern academies: The rise and rise of Asian universities

Higher education globalization expert Professor Simon Marginson examines the factors that have fuelled the inexorable rise of higher education in China and elsewhere in Asia. Presented by Eric van Bemmel.

"In China, as soon as a family begins to get enough disposable income, it starts to invest in education, and even quite poor families will spend 30 per cent or 40 per cent of their income on the cost of extra tuition and so on to help their child get into a good school and a good university later on." -- Prof Simon Marginson




Prof Simon Marginson
Prof Simon Marginson

Since 2006 Simon Marginson has worked as Professor of Higher Education at the University of Melbourne, based in the Centre for the Study of Higher Education. From 28 October 2013 he will be Professor of International Higher Education at the Institute of Education, University of London. He specializes in research on international higher education and globalization, and in recent years has closely looked at education and science in East Asia.

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Presenter: Eric van Bemmel
Producers: Kelvin Param, Eric van Bemmel
Audio Engineers: Gavin Nebauer
Voiceover: Nerissa Hannink
Series Creators: Eric van Bemmel and Kelvin Param

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VOICEOVER 
Welcome to Up Close, the research, opinion and analysis podcast from the University of Melbourne, Australia. 

ERIC VAN BEMMEL 
I'm Eric van Bemmel. Thanks for joining us. According to our guest this episode, universities in East Asia and Singapore will soon give their better-known counterparts in North America and Europe a run for their money and that's not even taking into account institutions sprouting up in the largest student market of them all, China. A record seven million students graduated from China's higher education institutions in 2013, a year on year increase of 190,000. By the year 2020, three of every 10 university and college graduates worldwide will hail from mainland China, yet China is struggling to build enough quality higher education capacity to meet domestic demand.Elsewhere in Asia, careful planning, greater investment in research and a deliberate strategy of internationalisation have seen the rising profiles of an increasing number of universities, new and old, yet in other Asian markets with enormous potential political and infrastructural impediments remain severe bottlenecks to badly needed large-scale enrolments of education-hungry students. But with the advent of MOOCs and other technologies that promise to bring name brand higher education closer to all, does university geography even matter anymore, and how will regional and national identities remain intact in the globalised university marketplace?To walk us through the emerging landscape of higher education in Asia, we are joined once again in the studio by Simon Marginson, Professor of Higher Education in the Centre for the Study of Higher Education at the University of Melbourne, a specialist in globalisation of higher ed. Simon is joint editor-in-chief of the discipline's flagship journal Higher Education. He is also on the editorial board of Times Higher Education, one of the major rankers of universities, as well as on the advisory committee of the academic Ranking of World Universities, also known as the Shanghai rankings. Be sure to check out episode 195 of Up Close, where Simon gives us a detailed look at the global university rankings game. Simon, welcome back to Up Close.

SIMON MARGINSON
Thanks Eric.

ERIC VAN BEMMEL
Now, Simon, historically, what institutions in Asia have had academic pedigree, and in what disciplines?

SIMON MARGINSON
If you trace it right back, the first arguably higher education institutions emerge in India in the period between 1000 BC and the birth of Christ. In that time there were some very significant Buddhist foundations and Hindu foundations devoted to scripture. Traveling scholars, traveling monks moving between centres, behaving a bit like medieval European university people did 2000 years later. But that period ended and all those original institutions rose and fell. There were subsequently important developments in both China and India in between the beginning of the Christian era and 1000 AD. Major institutions in India especially, which drew the attention of people throughout the Middle East and East Asia.
But when you're talking about universities in Asia now, you're talking about universities which arguably have a kind of western form, faculties, research, degrees, and so on. Those institutions, while the rest to some extent, especially in China, on a deep, long scholarly tradition and the tradition of public examination which begins in China nearly 2000 years ago, those institutions were largely modelled on western European and North American patterns. You see the emergence of the University of Tokyo in Japan in the late 19th century, a bit later Peking University and other Chinese universities, Nanjing and so on, emerge as well.
It's only really after the First World War, though, in China that the contemporary universities begin to flourish in numbers, and it's really only been in the last 30, 40 years that the great growth of the modern research university in Asia has occurred. The exception is Japan, where it was a bit earlier. Japan established a strong science-based higher education system by the 1970s and in the 1980s it was moving into the category of one of the world leading systems. By the 1990s it had certainly achieved that, and Japan has had a run of Nobel Prize winners coming out of its physics and maths and other science departments.

ERIC VAN BEMMEL
You mentioned the long tradition of education in China, and that brings to mind Confucianist philosophy, with the associated notions of meritocracy and the valuing of learning. Does Confucianism remain a cultural driver in many of the East Asian societies?

SIMON MARGINSON
Well, I think so. I think that you can only understand the great flourishing of education at school and higher educational level in East Asia, in the Sinic countries, the Chinese tradition countries, by going back to Confucianism and looking at the way in which Confucianism as an institutional form, not the philosophy of Confucius in the 6th century or 5th century BC, but the sort of institutionalised Confucianism of the Han era and the Tang dynasty. That form of institutionalised leadership selection and preparation, which is preparation for the bureaucracy as it was, established a scholarly tradition which still flourishes today.
It flourishes in every home, [in] the sense that the idea that you improve yourself through education and that hard work rather than talent is the key to educational and life success and that the duty of a child is to become a good student, the duty of the child to the parent, and the duty of the parent to the child is to make sure the child does well at school. Those are very, very deeply held ideas, and they're held in all families, not just rich families or middle class families. As soon as a family begins to get enough disposable income, it starts to invest in education, and even quite poor families will spend 30 per cent or 40 per cent of their income on the cost of extra tuition and so on to help their child get into a good school and a good university later on.
The commitment to education in all the countries in the Sinic tradition, and I include in that broadly Korea and Japan, which also absorbed this kind of Confucian educational idea, the commitment is quite remarkable, and it explains why Chinese and Singaporean, Korean, and Japanese students, Taiwanese students, do exceptionally well in the PISA assessment, the international comparison of learning achievement in maths, science and reading at age 15. It explains why there is tremendous drive to get into university, it explains why, now that China is expanding its tertiary education system at a rapid rate, there's so much take up of that system, of those opportunities. The population is ready.
The commitment to education in these societies is greater than anywhere else in the world, and this is fundamentally a matter of the Confucian tradition still working its way through these societies and cultures now.

ERIC VAN BEMMEL
Vietnam would be also in that sphere of influence.

SIMON MARGINSON
Yeah. Vietnam is a Sinic society in that sense. It was under Chinese domination for almost 1000 years, between then beginning of the Christian era and about 950 AD. North Vietnam was occupied by the Tang and Song dynasties. In fact, the conquest of Vietnam begins in the Han era. But Vietnam threw off the invader, and Vietnam is very much its own nation, and one of the strongest national identities in the world. I think only Japan, perhaps, ranks with Vietnam, in my experience, as being exceptionally strong national identity, established through a succession of successful repulsions of invaders. The Chinese, the French, the Americans, and so on, have all been thrown off one after another.
The Vietnamese use Confucian ideas, use Confucian equipment and education as part of their society as well. In a sense, Vietnam uses Chineseness against China, because it has to resist China as its dangerous northern neighbour, and China has invaded Vietnam even in the last 50 years, we shouldn't forget. But yet Vietnam remains, in some ways, patterned as a Chinese society. It's a very interesting place, Vietnam, and I think that once Vietnam establishes a higher level of gross national income per head - currently it's less than $4000 compared to Chinese $10,000 - once Vietnam moves to a higher income bracket, it will start to flourish in education in a way that the other Sinic tradition societies have.

ERIC VAN BEMMEL
Now turning to Vietnam's northern neighbour, China. With the opening of China economically in the 1980s under Deng Xiaoping there was seen to be a need to reform higher education. What sort of specific reforms were needed?

SIMON MARGINSON
Well, the formalisations included science and technology, and it became quickly apparent that the attitude to higher education was changing as well. During the cultural revolution in the late 60s, early 70s, the significant part of the party leadership in China saw education and university education as a bourgeois survival and a problem for the authority of the party, and the Red Guards were mobilised partly as students to overthrow that university authority. There was much burning of traditional manuscripts and so on. All of that changed and both tradition and modern science came into the picture with the modernisation reform period under Deng Xiaoping, but it was a while before the take-off in higher education occurred.
Science and technology moved a bit earlier, and the thing about Chinese science and technology is that a lot of it is in industry, a lot of it is in the state enterprises, and those were generating research in the 80s, but the universities took a while to take off. You see the participation rate at the beginning of the 90s, there's still only about four per cent of the tertiary education age group. Now it's about 30 per cent, so there's been tremendous growth in 20 years.

ERIC VAN BEMMEL
In fact, India had a higher enrolment rate back in 1990 than China did.

SIMON MARGINSON
Yes, that's right. India has grown too, but it's only about half the enrolment rate of China now, because China has grown so fast. It was really 1998 that signalled the accelerated developments that the world has been astonished by in the last 15 years.

ERIC VAN BEMMEL
One of their early goals was to create world-class institutions. Have they succeeded?

SIMON MARGINSON
Yes. They had two programs. The 211 program at the beginning of the 90s established a group of 200 universities that were seen as suitable for higher level development, but it was really the 1995 program announced at Peking University that was the take-off. That provided accelerated funding for the research-intensive universities in the top bracket. First the leading two, Tsinghua and Peking University, then the top nine, and then that was extended to 39 and those institutions are the ones that are the real global players.
If you go to universities in China you find that below that top level, especially below the top 200, they're not very internationalised and they're not very research-intensive, but the top nine especially are extraordinarily strong now compared to where they were, and that development will continue.

ERIC VAN BEMMEL
Simon, since 2000 China has doubled the number of its higher education institutions and increased its enrolments fivefold. What are the actual numbers we're talking about here?

SIMON MARGINSON
Well, I'd have to go back and look at the statistics, Eric, but there are two sets of statistics that are used to describe enrolment size and share in China. One related to tertiary education as a whole, which includes vocational education and shorter technical courses. The other relates to degree programs in universities. Degree programs in universities are about half the total of tertiary enrolment, and the degree programs are currently running at about 17 million, 18 million enrolments, so the total enrolment in tertiary is into the 30 millions. But China is a country of 1.3 billion people, so those statistics are not remarkable when you look at the total size of China.
I mean the percentage of enrolment is, as I said, it's probably around 30 per cent of the age group. That's a very significant development given where China was and we assume that China's participation rate will keep growing, because secondary school infrastructure has been expanding at the same time as tertiary education and there has been a considerable improvement in access to senior secondary schooling in the provincial areas of China, the areas which are poorer than the Eastern Seaboard and Beijing. We expect that education will keep rolling out throughout the country. There is a strong commitment to bringing the rural areas into the modern economy and education is one of the principal means.

ERIC VAN BEMMEL
I was going to ask you about the equity and access issues for Chinese students wanting to go to university. I suppose in the rural areas, the western areas in particular, it's more difficult.

SIMON MARGINSON
Well, there are immense inequalities, one of the most unequal countries in the world in terms of the socio-economic position of the different regions. And you know, if you go to Shanghai or Beijing, Hong Kong or other parts of the Eastern Seaboard, the average income is really at the level of $20,000, $20,000 American per head, and that's the level of, say, Russia, and that's coming up towards European levels, which are usually over 30[000]. If you go to western China you find that the average income is more like India, less than $5000, less than $4000 American. So there's tremendous inequality and the map of infrastructure, including universities, reflects this with the concentration in the richer parts of China.
This gap between the rich and poor provinces and between the rural and urban areas is a tremendous issue, always, for the Chinese. At the same time, because they use cheaper labour as a major source of labour in the manufacturing industry, that's one of the reasons why China is world competitive. So there's ways in which this inequality is leveraged economically within China; at the same time it creates social disharmony, which is - in a country in the Confucian tradition, harmony and social order are very important goals of government.
So in the end we're going to see a gradual - if not an actual bridging of the gap, we're going to see a lifting of the rural areas, and one of the ways that's being done is by urban development, by the emergence of new cities in different parts of China. And when there's new cities there's education and hospitals as well, so you'll see the tertiary infrastructure will just keep on expanding.

ERIC VAN BEMMEL
What's the role of private capital in developing tertiary education capacity?

SIMON MARGINSON
Well, not very great. I think the role of government really is expressed through infrastructure investment and through subsidies for the strong universities, the research-intensive universities, the global competitors, and for subsidies for bright students and some equity funding as well through loans and scholarships, you know, for poorer students. There's some tuition subsidy across the board, but much of the cost of tuition is paid by families. But as far as infrastructure development is concerned, at times yes, there are public/private partnerships, but much of the money comes from government.

ERIC VAN BEMMEL
I'm Eric van Bemmel and on Up Close this episode we're speaking with global higher education expert Professor Simon Marginson about the fast developing tertiary education market in China and elsewhere in Asia. Now, Simon, you mentioned the quality of research coming out of Chinese universities is improving. Now, QS reported that China has doubled its main scientific research budget between 2009 and 2011 and that the output of published research papers has risen from under 200,000 in 2006 to over 330,000 papers some four years later. Does the increased quantity translate into increased quality?

SIMON MARGINSON
Yeah the figures on quantity increase are right. The science paper output of China increases about 17 per cent per year, which is phenomenal. And there's never been a sustained rate of increase like this anywhere. The only country where the rate of increase is comparable at the moment is Iran, which is also growing in science and technology, very fast. But China of course is on a much larger scale. So when the largest country in the world expands science and technology output in English language journals at the rate of 17 per cent a year, you know that it's going to create a lot of the world's knowledge in the future, and that's what's happening.
Quality is improving as well from a low base. China published only about 0.6 per cent of the top high cited papers in chemistry in the year 2000, but 10 years later in the year 2010 it was publishing 10.6 per cent of the top cited papers, so you're seeing rapid jumps in quality. At the same time, the Americans still publish almost half of the world's top papers in chemistry, and the US will continue to be very strong, by far the strongest research system in the world for a long time to come. What's happening is that China is going to become a strong number two, and that's going to show up, in the end, in the quality indicators, but it's uneven by discipline, with China doing exceptionally well in engineering and related areas, computing, material science, chemistry, physics and maths pretty good. Essentially what you might call the physical sciences cluster and especially the applied science and engineering that arises from the physical sciences.
In the area of the life sciences, China is much weaker, with less than one per cent of the top papers in medicine and in life science compared to more than 10 per cent in chemistry and engineering, so you can see that the Chinese government has deliberately prioritised those areas which relate to rapid urban development such as transport communications, engineering works, infrastructure development, and so on. So it's been in those areas China has really focused its research effort.
Whether it picks up life sciences and medicine in the way that western Europe and North America does remains to be seen. We are seeing in Singapore and Hong Kong medicine and related fields are developing fairly well and fairly quickly, and they're beginning to in China, but it's not really at the same scale as yet. I suspect that in the end, with an aging population and issues related to the health sector, you will see a swing to more emphasis on medicine and life sciences as well. Maybe not to the same extent as in western cultures because much more of the medicine and the care of old people and so on takes place in the family in China, unless in the high-tech medical lab.

ERIC VAN BEMMEL
Simon, the English language is important in scientific research and in publications, especially in high-impact journals, because they're all in English. To what extent are Chinese academics handicapped by this need for English?

SIMON MARGINSON
Of course if you're working in your second language it's difficult, and it's still pretty tough for many Chinese scholars aged over, say, 30, 35, from that generation, and especially those aged over 45, to interact in conferences where conversational English is required and where quick comprehension of other people's spoken English is part of the academic discourse. But of course what happens in second language situations is that people learn to read and write before they learn to speak and listen, and there are many who can write competent papers already and that's clear from the statistics, from the publication statistics.
What happened in China, amongst other things in education, was that from the late 70s onwards a tremendous effort was made with English language learning, and the English as a foreign language industry in China is very large. One of the problems is that people who teach English as a foreign language of course have got a very useful skill for business and they tend to get good teaching jobs and then bleed off to business pretty quickly and make more money, but fortunately they're being replenished in sufficient numbers to keep that industry growing and developing, because it underpins much of China's internationalisation in education, government and business.
So it's tremendously important, English language learning in China, as it is throughout Asia in every country where English is not a major language of use. You know the Chinese effort in that regard is probably not as visible as its research effort or the growth of its world class universities, but it's actually a very significant part of its internationalisation and a big part of the success of Chinese universities.

ERIC VAN BEMMEL
Now, as you're probably aware, in parts of Europe a lot of post-graduate instruction, particularly in the STEM area, the so-called science, technology, engineering, maths areas, is done entirely in English. In Scandinavia, in the Netherlands...

SIMON MARGINSON
Germany, yeah. Holland.

ERIC VAN BEMMEL
Is China also going to go in that direction?

SIMON MARGINSON
There are Masters programs in English in China. I suspect that Chinese language will remain really important in China for the foreseeable future. Chinese is a major part of the human story and I think in the end, given the weight of China in the world, economically and later politically and culturally, we're going to see Chinese established as a global language. It probably won't be used as widely, as completely, as English is as a language of business, for example, and technology, but it will be a language which it will be necessary to know, I think, if you want to be globally effective, and that's going to be a major change. That includes Chinese script as well. The rise of Chinese actually is one of the issues, not just the rise of English in China but the rise of Chinese in the world.
Chinese people will be bilingual, and already the educated Chinese person, the person who has a lot of dealings with government or the economy, especially offshore, is a bilingual person. When you go to Shanghai or Beijing, what you notice is that there are so many people under 30, like Masters students in universities, who have got near perfect English and who research extensively in English on the Internet and write very well in English. It really has changed just in this generation, the English language competence on a wide scale has improved very rapidly.

ERIC VAN BEMMEL
That's all part of the globalisation of higher education. In China there are even western universities opening campuses in China. You've got examples such as Shanghai New York University, Kunshan Duke University. What's in it for these western universities?

SIMON MARGINSON
Well, I think they all want long-term relationships in China. They're not there to make money in the sense that most universities don't really drive themselves on the basis of profit, and there is a category of for-profit institutions, but they're not really that influential at the top level. Most universities are non-profit institutions and they behave more like enterprises than entrepreneurial businesses in the sense that they're a bit like the European trading empires of the 17th and 18th century. They're as much driven by glory and status and power as they are by money. So they go to China because China is so important in the world now and it's clearly rising, and a relationship with China puts you in the front seat in terms of the human story and where things are going and what the potentials are.
And the higher education people are usually the head of the play there because they're more internationalised than most parts of society, so you're seeing this rush into China ahead of, say, the tourism industry or the pattern even of small business. The Americans in particular are setting up shop in China in large numbers and many different kinds of ventures. There's joint degrees and there's standalone campuses, American campuses, in China. There's whole programs set in prestigious universities like Peking University has got a law program which is run by Yale and so on. So you've got these really significant interfaces between elite universities in the two countries.
Monash has got quite a good development in terms of - at Southeastern University - development of post-graduate science-based programs. Not a large-scale undergraduate campus, but a graduate school of quality with significant government support in China and a long-term commitment on both sides. I think you'll see some more Australian development there, but really we're in some danger of being crowded out by the Americans.

ERIC VAN BEMMEL
So this is a far cry from the old days of just mere student exchanges. We're seeing this institution-level cooperation, joint research platforms, et cetera.

SIMON MARGINSON
That's right.

ERIC VAN BEMMEL
Is there any fear or apprehension on the Chinese side?

SIMON MARGINSON
Oh, no. China has gone out of its way to encourage internationalisation in all forms. Bringing foreigners in makes lots of sense in terms of creating standards and templates, which can drive the improvement of quality in China, and it establishes a broad highway to relationships with the rest of the world. China sees the universities as one way it can relate to the rest of the world and learn from the western world at the same time, while spreading Chinese influence, and you can see that in the pattern of Confucius Institutes which have been set up around the world by China.
So it does work both ways now, and it's no longer a process of the developing country being half exploited and half assisted in capacity terms by western powers. This is now a pretty strong country in its own right which western powers feel they need to deal with on more equal terms, and although China is still, in per capita income terms, quite a lot poorer than Europe or the US, its clout in the world is clearly becoming equivalent.

ERIC VAN BEMMEL
We're now seeing even established Chinese universities setting up campuses overseas.

SIMON MARGINSON
There is the beginning of that. Chinese universities are beginning to reach out further now, and Shanghai Jiao Tong, for example, has got a campus in Singapore, and that's an important development. That kind of development will occur, but at a more modest rate than the development of western universities in China.

ERIC VAN BEMMEL
There's also Xiamen University setting up in Kuala Lumpur and Malaysia, talk of Zhejiang University setting up a campus in London.

SIMON MARGINSON
That's all on the cards, and I think that at the moment they're shop fronts for a system which is still predominantly nationally-centred in China. It's not quite like Australian offshore campuses or British offshore campuses which are a much larger industry relative to their home country. But I think that it's a significant development that they're reaching out. The thing about China in this period is that China has always been the Middle Kingdom, nation-centred, almost always. In the Tang dynasty, perhaps the most remarkable before the present dynasty, the Communist Party dynasty, it reached out into central Asia. You think of the geographic distances involved when you can only move by horse. Reaching out into central Asia and influencing the politics of Iran and Persia and northern India, it was a presence for a couple of hundred years in that region politically through its territories in central Asia.
It also, at the same time, was in Vietnam and invaded Korea and almost conquered the whole of Korea and gave thought to Japan and had the greatest influence over Japan in that period, culturally, and in many respects the Japanese institutions, the imperial institutions in Kyoto, were patterned on the Tang.
So the Tang dynasty reached both east and west. It reached into the Pacific zone, which is only sometimes important for China, and it reached into Central Asia, which has more often been important for China at the same time. That, I would call for its time, a global approach. This dynasty has a global approach. It is not like the Ming or the Qing, which is Chinese-centred, focused on Tibet or Vietnam or North Korea or central Asia but not on the rest of the world. This dynasty is interested in the role of China in the world. It's interested in global society, the relationship with America, a kind of power sharing with America worldwide.
It's interested in becoming the core society in human civilisation, I think, and that involves Confucianist institutes around the world, it involves this kind of positioning of offshore campuses, it involves major Chinese interventions in Africa and a number of countries with large numbers of Chinese workers, technologists, government officials and so on. A lot of foreign aid. So Africa has been a major theatre of activity.

ERIC VAN BEMMEL
As has Latin America. We've covered that.

SIMON MARGINSON
It's beginning to, and I think the Russian border will become important as well.

ERIC VAN BEMMEL
Having said that, though, Chinese students are still seeking education overseas. We find a 2013 survey in Shanghai, 75 per cent of parents plan to send their children overseas for higher education study, despite costs of up to a million yuan, and since 2011 the number of Chinese studying in the US alone surged 23 per cent. Why the continued hunger for an overseas education despite all the capacity building in China itself?

SIMON MARGINSON
It's a good question, but if you look at East Asia and you look at Taiwan and Korea, highly-developed higher education systems now, almost universal participation, universities in the top 200, and the domestic value of the degree is unquestionable, at least if you're in the top third of the system. People still go abroad in numbers from Taiwan and Korea. They go to particularly the US. There's nothing really surprising about the idea that some families, a minority of families - it must be said, it's a small minority in all East Asian countries, one or two per cent - still see value in a foreign education, despite the quality of the local. Sometimes, too, students go abroad who have just missed out on the very top institutions, and they access a foreign university of quality as a sort of good second best option.
You know you've got the selection factor operating. It's not just a question of whether there's broad base quality available; it's questions of the level of quality that's available for the individual student. The point is, though, it's the demographics in China. If only one per cent of tertiary students, the tertiary age group, goes abroad, and that's about what goes abroad, it's still a very, very large number of students in a world sense. So what we'll see is I think China will continue to grow, improve, expand participation and improve quality of universities. At the same time, there will be this small percentage still going abroad, and because the size of the middle class is growing, it will be maybe two or three times its present size in 20 years.
That percentage going abroad stays the same. The number going abroad goes up two or three times. I think you will see a lot of Chinese students still. You'll also see students who do a first degree in China and then do a second degree abroad, and you'll also see the reverse as well. What is clear, though, is that many of the students who are going abroad now, coming to Australia or the US or UK, are going back to China because their employment opportunities in China now are very significant, whereas the great bulk of them, especially in the US, used to stay in the country of education. I think there's much more reverse migrancy now.

ERIC VAN BEMMEL
You're listening to Up Close. I'm Eric van Bemmel. In this episode we're speaking with global higher education guru Professor Simon Marginson about the challenges and trajectories of universities across Asia. Turning to the topic of academic freedom, Simon, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported recently that there are a number of topics that are banned in Chinese classrooms, sort of officially, things like press freedom, civil society. The Chronicle did mention that often times these things are discussed more informally in Chinese classrooms, but from on high they are banned. Can China continue to ban these things, given their ambitions in higher education?

SIMON MARGINSON
I haven't seen the Chronicle report, and I'm a bit reluctant, sometimes, to entertain what is often a shallow debate in the US about Chinese academic freedom. It's a much more complicated problem and in some ways Chinese universities have got more feisty criticism and debate and discussion about government policy than, say, Singapore. I've gone to a lot of conferences in China and one of the things that has always struck me is that once you're behind the closed doors of a conference environment in any university, there's immense freedom. People are very critical. Party members are very critical of the party.
Policy is debated all the time and in the leading universities like Peking University or Shanghai, Jiao Tong or Fu dan or Tsinghua, when people, for instance, in the university criticise the government, that's very weighty. That really matters. That has an influence which it doesn't in Australia or the UK and so not only is there much debate and discussion and criticism, but it actually has an impact. So in some ways it's more significant.
What's different about China is that people don't go outside the university into the civil space as public intellectuals with freedom and the debate the government and criticise the government. That, of course, is not there, and you don't have a multi-party environment, you don't have a contestable polity. When people go out into the public space and criticise the government, they're setting themselves outside the norms of the social order and they face the potential for repression and that can be very tough. And there are some scholars who do this very bravely. It's part of the Confucian tradition to assert rightness against authority when authority is seen to be corrupt or on the wrong path. That's one of the obligations of the scholar in the Confucian tradition, and people do this with some frequency in China and suffer persecution.
So there's both freedom and unfreedom by our standards. There's a great deal of freedom inside the universities, which are in fact part of the state or part of government in the sense, as there is much debate inside the ruling party in China as well and often it's the same kind of debate. Outside the party and outside the state, outside the ruling machine itself, which is quite large and plural, there is nothing like the same level of debate you get in contestable democracies. I would say, though, that this tradition is not just China. It's East Asia and it's true of the capitalist societies and the multi-party polities to some extent.
There's not the same level of criticism of government. There's much more conformity with the state as the guardian of social order in East Asia. That's part of the Hun dynasty version of the Confucian tradition, which has become the governing tradition in East Asia. So we should be wary, I think, of applying expectations and norms shaped by American culture with its freewheeling innovation and criticism, its contempt for the state and its hatred of government as endemic to, you know, that society. To some extent that's true of Australia and the UK as well, that sort of resistance to the state or criticism of the state as the instinct, the political instinct, of people.
It's different in East Asia. It doesn't mean that people don't exercise freedoms of a kind. They exercise different kinds of freedoms. Chinese professors have a different notion of their duty to that of western Professors. Chinese professors have a notion that they have much responsibility and much authority, that they're empowered to lead and to develop the generation of young people, that they should be respected and they should be autonomous in doing so. It is also their obligation to stand up against wrong authority if it becomes sufficiently pathological, but until the moment of rebellion their obligation is to support the social order.
So what you see in China is not a freewheeling and rather ineffective criticism that you see is the norm in academic life in the English-speaking west. What you see is an alternation between conformity and the scholar as a representative of authority to open rebellion and the scholar declaring that the authority should be cast down. In a nutshell, when the dynasty is strong the universities conform. When the dynasty is weak, then the universities are a hotbed of rebellion and most of the big changes in Chinese politics in the 20th century had their beginnings in Peking university.

ERIC VAN BEMMEL
Simon, turning to technology and more specifically MOOCs, the massive open online courses. These established universities are delivering their courses via the Internet to all corners of the globe. What's the likely impact of these MOOCs in the Chinese higher education market and in Asia more broadly?

SIMON MARGINSON
I don't know how much impact MOOCs are going to have, because I think much depends on language and instruction. I think when you're going to that really mass level where you depend on user-friendly MOOCs, students enjoying the technology and using it in their own way, and I think this is powering the development of MOOCs, they're very student-friendly and they fit in with the way people use the Internet normally in social networking and they include social networking, in fact. If all of that works really well in your own language, it doesn't work so well if you're not in your language of use.
Now, the language of use in China is still Chinese. People use English for educational purposes and for work purposes, but they're happiest in social networking in Chinese. I suspect that if MOOCs can translate relatively well into Mandarin, and some are obviously doing so but most of them are not at this stage, then the impact in China could be almost as great as it is in English-speaking societies, but if they don't do that, if they don't break the language barrier, then they'll remain a more marginal matter, probably a bit more like online education has been before the MOOCs where there's been western education in China through [the] online variety but it hasn't become the central element in educational provision that it was expected to be 15 years ago when the first online universities were being set up.

ERIC VAN BEMMEL
What about in a place like India, if we turn to South Asia now, where India has its own bottlenecks toward providing mass education? There are of course the Indian Institutes of Technology, Indian Institutes of Management, characterised as pinnacles of excellence in a sea of mediocrity. MOOCs might have a role there, but what's holding Indian higher education back in general?

SIMON MARGINSON
The Indian institutes of technology are seen as elite places and the reason why they're elite places is because they keep their numbers small, like 2000 students, 2500, and they are highly selective, highly desirable places to go. They're seen as elite factories and so they've got enormous numbers of applications, ratios of 100,000 applications to 500 or 1000 places, that sort of thing. Now, when you've got those kind of ratios you select very good students. So they've got really bright students usually, socially advantaged students, going in and coming out as graduates. Now, it's arguable whether the IITs themselves have added the value there, but they certainly look like they're stellar institutions.
I'm wary about the notion of the IITs; they're a very powerful global model. I think that this is the product of a huge demography, a big middle class, a strong aspiration and commitment to education in India and very small eye of the needle type gateway which creates quality just by the fact of selection. There are some, of course, strong research and education institutions in India but India underperforms in both research and in higher education and there's a number of reasons for this. The most important reason is the fragmentation between state policy so that the national level of policy-making and resourcing is comparatively weak. It's a bit stronger in research than it is in higher education itself.
The second factor is that the big public universities like Delhi University have not been through the kind of new public management reforms, the efficiency drives, the creation of a professional executive rather than an elected vice chancellorship and so on that most of the European and English-speaking universities have been through. They haven't been through modernisation of the type we are all too well aware of here in Australia, so they're not very efficient. They're highly politicised. They're not performance culture focused. They're not particularly good at either teaching or research by world standards, which isn't to say there aren't lots of good people. Of course there are lots of good people, it's just that the institutional drivers and the performance drivers are not achieving high productivity, high quality outcome, on a scale.
Indian institutions are internationalised in some senses but they're not systematically internationalised and benchmarked against foreign competition like the Chinese or Singaporean universities. It's the absence of both a policy culture and a management culture that's equivalent to that which you see elsewhere in the world, I think, that explains why Indian universities aren't continually reforming and progressing and internationalising and becoming more effective on a world scale.
Having said all that, science paper output, which was flat for a long time, about 10 years in the 1990s and 2000s, is now growing rapidly again and participation in tertiary education is also growing. I'm sceptical, though, about whether India will follow the East Asian path. There's a lot of reasons why it doesn't. the absence of Confucian culture and the absence of a strong state of the Confucian tradition type, I think, are the main reasons. I don't think you will see India playing the role in the world that China plays in the world, at least in higher education and research.

ERIC VAN BEMMEL
Simon, just finally, given the globalisation and technology, assuming they strongly influence the higher educational landscape in Asia in diverse ways, of course, how can university leaders and policy makers and others interested ensure that national and regional identities are not compromised?

SIMON MARGINSON
Well, it's very complicated, an evolving question, isn't it? It's a matter of watch this space. I think that what we're going to see is not a blanket standardisation of the world along English language or European lines at all. With East Asia and South Asia becoming so strong economically, that translates eventually into cultural and political power as well and strong identities that will be manifest in the human story forever. Chinese is far too big and irreducible, but also there's large blocks of language and linguistic and cultural tradition which aren't going to disappear. Korea and Japan are amongst those. Even some of the bigger regional languages in India, like Bengali. It's spoken by 300 million people. Bengali culture is really important.
There's no way these cultural sets are going to disappear. The more interesting problems are the smaller regionalised language groups, often with strong traditions. But what determines the development of traditions is their intersection with modernity and the way in which they hybridise and evolve in the contemporary context and the way they mix with each other and how robust the identities are when they cross paths with other identities, I guess. My sense is that in both Europe and Southeast and East Asia, especially in regional India, a lot of those identities are pretty strong and there are sustainable, large communities which will be wealthy communities in many cases.
Even in Europe it's quite remarkable, the survival of small languages and so on over a long period of time, because people are able to sustain their lives while knowing French and German and English at the same time, and I think that's the pattern that you'll see in Asia, unlike the English-speaking countries. People often speak two or three languages fluently and that's the norm and that enables you to both maintain cultures and also join into the larger conversations in global English without, without compromising your identity. In fact, what happens is your identity becomes multiple and it becomes mixed and within that, it's quite possible to sustain more than one tradition.

ERIC VAN BEMMEL
Simon Marginson, thank you very much for joining us.

SIMON MARGINSON
My pleasure.

ERIC VAN BEMMEL
That was Simon Marginson, Professor of Higher Education in the Centre for the Study of Higher Education at the University of Melbourne. We've been speaking about the fast developing higher education market in China and other parts of Asia. Relevant links, a full transcript of this and all our episodes can be found at our website at upclose.unimelb.edu.au. Up Close is a production of the University of Melbourne Australia. This episode was recorded on 5th July 2013 and produced by Kelvin Param and me, Eric van Bemmel. Audio engineering by Gavin Neighbour. Up Close is created by me and Kelvin Param. Thanks for joining us. Until next time, goodbye.

VOICEOVER
You've been listening to Up Close. We're also on Twitter and Facebook. For more info visit upclose.unimelb.edu.au. Copyright 2013, the University of Melbourne. 


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