The Chinese Ministry of Education, the National Development and Reform Commission, and the Ministry of Finance have jointly launched a development plan to strengthen universities in the less developed central and western parts of China by 2020.
Top universities in China have so far been overwhelmingly concentrated in the more economically well-off cities in Eastern China. This has lead to severe inequality in access to good quality higher education and an unbalanced higher education landscape. For example, Beijing as the capital city is home to 26 out of the 111 first-tier universities (“211 universities”) in China. In contrast, the entire province of Xinjiang hosts only 1 first-tier university and the province of Qinghai and Ningxia have no first-tier university. The lack of good universities in central and western areas has not only hindered the formation of talented but also slowed down regional economic development.
In this context the Chinese government has announced a development plan, which sets aside RMB 10 billion. The funds support 100 universities in the region to improve their facilities and bachelor level education.
In principle, universities in central and western China are encouraged to focus on applied sciences and skill-based training. This aims at improving the employability of the graduates and to address local development needs. In ethnic minority regions, academic programs on local history and culture, and traditional local industries (medicine, handcraft, music etc.) will be created.
Improving the competence of faculties is a top priority in the development plan. On the one hand, professors and researchers from top universities in China and abroad who are willing to be based in central and western universities will have a better chance of receiving national and local talent incentive packages such as the “Thousand Talent Program”. On the other hand, current faculty members—both teaching and administrative staff—will have more faculty exchanges with top universities in China and international study tours. On the national level, the China Scholarship Council will also prioritize candidates from central and western universities when selecting scholarship candidates for overseas studies and visiting scholarship. To ensure a high quality of teaching, teachers’ training universities (“normal universities”) in central and western China will pair up with peers affiliated to the Ministry of Education to improve the quality of education for future teachers.
International cooperation is encouraged on a rather limited level. This is reasonable given the current academic and research capacity of the universities. The universities are encouraged to develop and increase exchanges with the neighboring countries and regions such as ASEAN countries and the Arabic countries. The China Scholarship Council will leverage the current scholarship exchange frameworks to motivate more international students—particularly students from neighboring countries and regions—to pursue their studies in central and western universities.