Good for itself that the newborn nine-college alliance, dubbed C9, has shied away from comparing itself to the Ivy League in the United States. Though some anxious to see "world-class" colleges on Chinese soil are already referring to it as the Chinese version of the Ivy League, a lot is to be done for the C9 to even be a look-alike.|
The authorities might be eager to have their own institutions of higher learning on the list of the world's most prestigious schools. The so-called Project 985 has the specific aim of creating "world class" Chinese colleges. Nine candidates were singled out to receive special State sponsorship in that race. Now they are in alliance. And C9 members are frank about their goal being to become "world class".
That mission can be easy and difficult. Difficult, because we all know how far higher education in this country has lagged behind over the past decades. And easy, because there is no definite yardstick out there.
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The inherent ambiguity in the label "world class" aside, there is plenty waiting to be addressed for the C9 to really work. We are not sure how far the C9 can go in the real world. But the blueprint does promise some meaningful breakthroughs in the current regime - the idea of mutual complementarity and resource-sharing in particular.
The schools agreed on mutual credit recognition, student exchanges, training of teaching staff, jointly sponsoring summer schools and more. Which, once executed as expected, will surely broaden the horizon and thus prospects for students of the member schools. That is the main reason why we hope the C9 can ultimately honor its promises. Allowing students to take full advantage of the strengths of nine schools is otherwise impossible at this point.
One of the recent changes in the landscape of Chinese higher education is the emergence of ultra-large campuses. In order to make competitive schools stronger, or help lesser schools survive, many colleges have been merged. Yet in many cases, the unification remains superficial in the absence of genuine integration of resources and even management philosophies. The C9, however, aspires for inter-campus integration. For that alone the alliance merits endorsement. How the C9 works that out should be exemplary for other schools.
So it does not matter whether the C9 will someday qualify for being called a Chinese-edition Ivy League, or when it becomes "world class." Instead of those useless games with labels and words, we would rather see down-to-earth efforts to improve the way our colleges are run, and to make sure our students learn what higher education is supposed to deliver.
(China Daily 10/21/2009 page8)