The man behind an education revolution

(China Daily)
Updated: 2011-01-25 07:12
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BEIJING - At the retirement age of 64, Zhu Qingshi was handpicked by the Shenzhen government to organize a new education model to better tap the research and innovation potential of young Chinese.

"I've been thinking hard over the past year on where and how we go," says Zhu.

He looked to the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and recalled his visits as either a guest scientist or researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Brookhaven National Laboratory in the United States, Cambridge and Oxford universities in Britain, the National Research Council of Canada and the University of Paris.

Finally, he decided: "We will not have bureaucrats. A council will be established to lay down rules and policies, and to monitor everyday operations but it will stay detached from academic activities."

Chinese professors and university managers are usually part of the State administrative hierarchy. Principals, for instance, normally have a rank equivalent to a city mayor or provincial deputy governor.

Zhu, who enjoyed deputy governor-level status when heading the University of Science and Technology of China in Hefei, Anhui province, gave up his bureaucratic ranking, turning the South University of Science and Technology of China (SUSTC) into the country's first university headed by a professor.

"One of the biggest hindrances to Chinese universities turning out research talent is the rampant bureaucratic culture on campus," Zhu said.

"In my university, all faculties will be stripped of their administrative rankings. If presidents and professors focus on seeking administrative privileges, who will pursue academic excellence?"

Given that the presidents of Chinese universities are appointed by higher government authorities, campuses are run according to administrative priorities and professors with experience in education have little say, Zhu explained.

"As a result, kowtowing to authority and having subordinate lower levels have evolved into the dominant campus culture, which dampens academic enthusiasm," he says.

Three Chinese academicians and a handful of renowned scientists have joined the SUSTC, drawn by a salary package for leading professors of about 1.15 million yuan ($174,690) a year each, much higher than that for their domestic peers, but lower than the international average.

In March, the first 50 students will be admitted, each with a scholarship of 10,000 yuan a year for tuition and living expenses.

Uniquely among State-run universities, the SUSTC can bypass the national student screening process - the national university entrance examination - to independently enroll students and confer degrees based on its own criteria.

SUSTC enrollment tests assess academic achievement as well as imagination, understanding and innovation. One question, for instance, requires examinees to use two circles, two triangles and two lines to constitute as many graphics as possible.

Unlike other new college students who must choose their majors before admission, students at SUSTC are required to take two years of basic courses before registering their majors with the university's institutes.

As well as compulsory courses in the desired institutes, students can turn to other institutes for elective courses. So long as they have the required credits, they can graduate, said Zhu.

Zhu's vision is for all faculties to double as teaching and research and development (R&D) bodies. They will give specialized courses, but R&D must be interdisciplinary to broaden the horizons of students and allow free development.

Zhu says a doctorate degree and experience of study abroad are compulsory for all candidates applying for the teaching faculty at his Shenzhen-based university, where the teacher-student ratio will be 1:8.

"In three to five years, we will have 20 foremost R&D professors to head 20 first-class institutes," Zhu said.


(China Daily 01/25/2011 page5)