China's higher education excellence in the context of globalization: the world-class university

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Ho, Chiung-yao

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Higher education systems worldwide are undergoing major restructuring to enhance their competitiveness on a global level. China, Britain, and Germany have announced major reforms to build elite universities in order to stay ahead in today’s knowledge economy. China, in particular, has invested billions of yuan to build worldclass universities as a national strategy to meet the challenges of global competition. While the intention to pursue excellence is unambiguously clear, the definition of a world-class university is very vague and subject to various interpretations. Therefore, this study examines the major elements of excellence as perceived by China and scrutinizes the impact of globalization on the interpretation of the world-class university. The study describes and connects two different yet related phenomena, i.e., China’s world-class university aspiration and globalization. One part of the study describes the efforts and results of the 985 Project, which aims to build world-class universities in China. Specifically, the study examines Peking University and Tsinghua University, the two key universities which have received major government grants to enhance their quality. The other part of the study presents scholarly interpretations of globalization pertaining to higher education. In-depth analyses of the two systems reveal how globalization frames and shapes China’s interpretation of excellence. Using a modified version of Interactive Qualitative Analysis (IQA), this study relied on qualitative data collected from literature and documents. The researcher analyzed approximately 162 documents. Eleven key elements of a world-class university were identified, and an interpretation system, visualized in a mindmap, was constructed based on the relationships between the elements. To determine the impact of globalization on the idea of a world-class university, five key elements of globalization of higher education were identified, and a mindmap was built accordingly. Comparisons of the mindmaps yield underlying threads across the two systems. Findings of the study shed light on the meaning of excellence in a contemporary and broader context and reveal the approach China has taken to enhance national competitiveness. The implications of globalization on worldwide higher education are also examined.