Uncategorized | 11:53 am | February 3, 2010 | By Baobao Zhang

Chinese universities to soon match Oxbridge and Ivies, Levin says

Top Chinese universities will rival the Ivy League and Oxbridge within 25 years, University President Richard Levin said Monday during a lecture before the Royal Society in London. But British and American universities should not view the rise of China’s universities as threatening, Levin maintained — rather, they should see the competition as a way to improve higher education worldwide, he said.

According to Levin, China has the resources and funding to send its universities to the top of the list of the highest-ranked academic institutions in the world. He added that the British government, which recently cut 950 million pounds from higher education over the next three years, should not fail to recognize Oxford and Cambridge as global leaders in higher education.

To build world-class research and education, Chinese universities should broaden its curriculum and encourage critical thinking, Levin added.

According to the QS World University Rankings, Harvard is ranked number one in 2009, followed by Cambridge at number two and Yale at number three. Eleven of the top 15 universities are in the United States and four are in the United Kingdom. Tsinghua University, number 49, is China’s highest ranked university on the list.

Click here to read the full text of Levin’s speech, “The Rise of Asia’s Universities.”

Comments
  • James T. Madison

    ABSOLUTELY NO! President Levin’s prediction is almost certainly and utterly wrong unless there is a series of drastic social and political reforms in China of which there is now little hint. He really should know and say that.

    For at least 800 years serious scholars have continuously, correctly and loudly pointed out that academic freedom, freedom of thought, freedom of inquiry and freedom of expression are ALL absolute necessities in the creation and maintenance of true first rate research and teaching universities. ALL of those freedoms are seriously lacking in China now and it will take huge social and political reforms – perhaps a violent revolution – to secure them. No serious person doubts that the Ivies and Oxbridge, and any institution that would hope to compete with them, would rapidly wither as true universities without such freedoms. Without such freedoms China can hope to create at most good technical and teaching institutes staffed with isolated, restricted scholars (some first rate).

    Commitment of physical resources and money is just a start. A world class university is not a toy or autopart factory, or a fancy swimpool stadium. Relevant freedoms are not just the ghost in university machines, such freedoms are necessary for the whole substance of a serious university.

    There is much to admire in the progress that China has made recently. But vastly more is needed, especially on exactly the political and social fronts to pertain to great universities. Levin’s wan reservation that “To build world-class research and education, Chinese universities should broaden its curriculum and encourage critical thinking,” does not even begin to address the issue or hint at its scale.

    Mr. Levin is also responsible for Yale’s outreach to India. He should look to India, not China, as the more likely locale of top ranked, ascendant universities in the next 30 years.

  • skeptic

    “To build world-class research and education, Chinese universities should broaden its curriculum and encourage critical thinking, Levin added.” Therein lies the problem. Levin is overly optimistic to think that this can happen in only 25 years. A broad curriculum and critical thinking are very dangerous to the paramount Chinese goal of social stability at any cost.

  • Jing Zhang

    It is very difficult to predict what universities will rise to leading institutes. However, Universities in China have been reforming and enlarging their curriculum for years. Taking Beijing University as an example, there are over 5,000 foreign students currently. People there do have many freedom to conduct their study and research. There are still more need to be done, but as long as the society is stable in some way, it is possible that top universities will be much stronger than they are now. I don’t see why ABSOLUTELY NO!

  • James T. Madison

    @3 (Jing Zhang):

    Chinese universities will likely be much stronger than they are now in 25 years. But President Levin predicted much more than that.

    Academic freedom, freedom of thought, freedom of inquiry and freedom of expression are ALL absolute necessities in the creation and maintenance of true first rate research and teaching universities. ALL of those freedoms are seriously lacking in China now and it will take huge social and political reforms – perhaps a violent revolution – to secure them.

    It’s not Western self-serving that these freedoms are ABSOLUTE NECESSITIES, not to being “good” or “stronger,” but to being “leading world class.” Money and shifting from “rote learning” to “critical thinking” are not enough to get there. Far too many Chinese people don’t even recognize the central importance of these freedoms!

    As just one of infinitely many examples, in China almost everything that goes on almost every single day in almost every single room at Yale Law School would land almost every single person involved in jail (with the exception in the last case being the government stooge planted to keep an eye on the others). The same could be said for the Yale political science department, the history department, even the various language departments (including English), and on and on.

    The problems extend deep into the sciences. For example, Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is also Director of the Yale Climate Institute and Professor in the Practice of Sustainable Development. But it is now believed in many quarters that Chinese intelliogence was involved in hacking the East Anglia University computers in the “Climategate” matter. Chinese intelligence is certainly involved in similar harassment throughout China and the world, so for the sake of analysis assume China was involved in Climategate. Given the Chinese government’s activities and policies in this area, and regardless of one’s opinions regarding global warming, it is unlikely that someone like Pachauri would be willing to accept a position with a Chinese university or, in the unlikely event he did accept such a position, that he could really function well in such an environment! A univerity simply cannot hope to be first class (world class) if every area of scientific research with potential for major social consequences is in danger of suppression because of those consequences. Obviously this concern extends to medical schools and biology departments, too, and far beyond. Freedoms are not just decoration or something “nice to have.” They are what a real, top, world class university is all about.

    For what it’s worth, I believe that Levin (who is a wonderful person and president and a very smart man) knows all this and was just being politic in his phrasing “critical thinking” in speaking to the Chinese. Sometimes academics, too, is the art of the possible.

  • Jing Zhang

    To James T. Madison,

    First of all, thanks for your thoughtfull discussion.

    Freedom is just one aspect of human being socioty, definitely not everything. I could have a laudry list of non-freedom acts from each country’s government, which doesn’t matter as long as people there used to that pattern. Remember every government has a CIA or FBI to monitor and sensor things going on.

    Assuming freedom is absolutely necessary for developing leading universities. From what I saw in China, scholars now have the same freedom as in other country academically. I feel even they have too much freedom that needs to be regulated. What they need is displines to confine themselve not going to far to produce many louzy quality papers.

    If your freedom means that politically, we now have much more freedom than we had thirty years ago, which is why China is booming in many directions. Who could predicts the development of China now thirty years ago? Again, if freedom is everything, China may go to that direction soon without violent social change. I am not defending Chinese government and the communist party, however. To be honest, one major reason I came to this country was I don’t like that government then, which fortunately has been changed drastically. I don’t think Chinese Communist Party is the same as it was years ago. For example, they have successfully and peacefully replace top leaders for several rounds. It is easier for people to notice the differnces of different society that to notice the similarity. We are all human beings and we have much in common that our differences.

    Overall, China has been and will change more toward freedom, therefore, producing leading universities is not a difficult task at all. We may argue the time frame President levin predicted.

  • Benjamin Huang

    To Jing Zhang and James T. Madison,

    I agree with James T. Madison that a democratic ethos and a spirit of free inquiry are necessary for the creation of first-rank universities. One cannot imagine, for example, a 20th century Chinese history course which honestly addresses what happened in 1989. On the other hand, Chinese education has reformed itself in the past, and there is no reason why it cannot do so again. The old examination system was abolished in 1905; the May 4th movement brought major advances in women’s education and promoted bai-hua over classical Chinese; the Four Modernizations de-emphasized Maoist ideology and enabled Chinese students to study abroad, and so on. It seems to me that there is a critical mass of forward-thinking individuals in China who have the talent– though not yet the means– to lead a reform that will push Chinese higher education into the top rank. We can only hope that the political situation will evolve sufficiently to give them their chance. Ben Huang SY ’76

  • skeptic

    I think Jing Zhang’s comments prove Mr. Madison’s case: “From what I saw in China, scholars now have the same freedom as in other country academically. I feel even they have too much freedom that needs to be regulated.” Simply not an accurate observation. Chinese scholars are famous for self-censorship. China routinely bans Western scholars who offend the “party line” (often just a reference to Taiwan, Tibet, Xinjiang, or the Tiananmen incident). I was accused of knowing “state secrets” that I read in the People’s Daily (a Chinese language newspaper “for Chinese only”)

    To equate the FBI to China’s security apparatus is just incorrect. Zhang does not fully understand the basic transparency and ultimate “rule of law, not men” that distinguishes the systems.

    China will not only need to continue onward in its welcome political reforms, but 2000 years of history will have to be overcome. While the traditional exam system was officially abandoned at the end of the Qing, the culture of that system of deference to authority, defense of the status quo, or worse, of antiquity, and the veneration of rote learning lives on. Just ask anyone who has taught in China. Students are afraid to question because it implies that the teacher was not clear… something I have never experienced in American or European students.

    I agree with Madison that Levin (the master diplomat) was just spouting nice blather.