“The State of Chinese Higher Ed”

Tsinghua lecturer David Lundquist on Chinese universities:

The weaknesses of the Chinese classroom are more or less well-known: rote learning, an America-inspired fixation with metrics for professorial performance (scholarly publications) and students with upwards of twenty-five class hours per week, resulting in large class sizes.

Libraries, the cathedrals of learning necessary for any university, are not up to specification. Newly built yet still cramped, they contain a ragtag collection of discarded books from American universities. The typical American community college boasts about the same. Contrast this with formidable collections of Chinese literature at elite American institutions.

Housing facilities are also inferior. Students live four or six to a room, with a bathroom at the end of the hall. That’s not to say that American-style amenities are the way to go–there’s obviously some waste. But exactly where is the emotional development on Chinese campuses? Amenities, perks and comfort zones might be what students need during four years of emotionally taxing, intensive social experiences.

A narrow concept of learning is prioritized over wider notions of personal growth common to many Americans. Chinese students are not only less likely to graduate without pleasant and fulfilling romantic experiences, they’re also less likely to know themselves in many senses that Americans see as essential: tendencies under stress, life trajectory or, more practically, career preferences.

Chinese students seek release from stress just like everyone–a little recreation or time to let go. But as for on-campus entertainment for students, China fails again. Lacking a student meeting hall, group meetings are often held in cafeterias amid the aroma of fried rice, above drips and drops of sauce and soup.

Like many Chinese elites, a large number of Tsinghua students will later seek graduate degrees in the United States. Tsinghua estimates that 40-60 percent of graduates who study abroad do not return. The government has tried to stop this brain drain by providing money for talented researchers, especially Chinese scientists already established abroad. This is not easy, one professor explains, when funding in the PRC has traditionally been divvied up based on connections.

Having spent time teaching in a much more ordinary university than Tsinghua, I can definitely confirm that this experience is very typical of Chinese higher education.

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