China has pledged to raise university enrollment in the Tibet Autonomous Region to 30% over the next five years in a new focus on higher education – a move that experts and Tibetans in exile say may not benefit ethnic Tibetans, but rather increased numbers of Han Chinese moving to the region.
China’s Vice-president Xi Jinping said on a visit to Tibet University on 18 July that the government would speed up economic development in Tibet as the “key to resolving all issues” in the region, which is beset by major anti-government unrest and subject to a pervasive security crackdown.
Some CNY3 billion (US$465 million) will be spent on boosting university enrollment, official media quoted Song Heping, head of the regional government’s education department, as saying.
The Chinese government claims the current gross enrollment rate in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) is 23.4% compared to a national average of around 26.5%. More than 31,000 students, who the government said were “mainly ethnic Tibetans”, study at the region’s six tertiary institutions.
Tibet University, the largest higher education institution, will be helped to become “an internationally recognised university,” officials said.
However Lobsang Sangay, recently elected as prime minister of the Tibetan government in exile, said the majority of university students in Tibet are Han Chinese.
Speaking at a meeting of the Asia Society this week, he said: “There are many reservations and advantages [for Tibetans] but in actuality many of them are taken advantage of by Han Chinese.”
For example, he said, minorities are given a certain percentage of marks for university entrance in order to help them compete, and those living in minority areas also get extra marks for admission to university.
“In the Tibet Autonomous Region at the junior and senior level at high school an increasing number of university students are Chinese, flown in from the outside.
“Why? Party member’s children who don’t do so well in inner China, they want to send their children to good universities in China so they send their children to Tibetan schools. Just by virtue of being admitted in a minority area you get certain percentage points and you can go to a mainland Chinese university.”
Sangay said lack of educational and job opportunities for Tibetans in Tibet was a major issue.
“This is why hundreds of Tibetans, till recently thousands, flee Tibet and cross over the Himalayan mountains, lose their citizenship and come to India as refugees – to seek education, secular as well as religious. Why would anyone do that if you are a Chinese citizen and per capita income is higher than India?”
“There has been concern, especially in Lhasa, that the preferential policies that were definitely aimed primarily at Tibetans, were in practice taken advantage of by Chinese. While I was there some Chinese students said openly they had moved to Tibet University because they could not get into any other university it China,” said Barnett, who was previously director of Tibet University’s foreign students programme in Lhasa.
Meanwhile Barnett dismissed the idea that Tibet University could become internationally recognised. “They have been making these kinds of statements for several years, yet in recent years, particularly 2007-08, they banned foreign scholars from coming there to teach, particularly subjects relating to Tibetan culture.”
“International scholarly exchanges ground to a halt and international scholarly research in Tibet dropped to a tiny amount. The bulk of international student exchanges were reduced to a trickle, while levels of controls on students in Tibet University increased hugely when important Chinese officials were visiting Tibet. International students were not allowed off campus when these visits were taking place.
“This level of control has increased in the last three to four years. Their statements run counter to the political and intellectual climate in Tibet.”