Communalities and differences between European and Chinese Higher Education systems

As part of the study communalities and differences between the European and Chinese Higher Education Systems have been identified and discussed. A distinction was made between the structure of degree programmes, their length and their content. Furthermore, the existing credit systems in use have been compared as have the quality assurance mechanisms in place.

The focus in Chinese Higher Education is (still) very much input based and teacher oriented. Only higher education institutions which are affiliated to foreign institutions use more modern approaches. These are exceptional cases.

As in many Asian countries access to higher education requires passing of an entrance exam. Students take up to one year to prepare for such exams. Entrance exams are used for both the bachelor and the master. Part of the curriculum for all academic studies is the same, namely course units covering Marxism and English language learning. Both in the bachelor and master room for specialisation is limited.

Although degree programmes are longer in China than in Europe – four years for the bachelor and two to three years for the master – the intensity of learning is (much) lower. The last years of both cycles are mainly used for preparing for the next entrance exam (as in the case of the master) or for finding employment. According to the Chinese academics the real workload of both bachelor and master programmes requires probably 50% of the time scheduled. The master thesis received no credits and it is in size and depth not really comparable to what research universities in Europe require from their students.

The focus in the degree programmes in both cycles is on knowledge acquisition and reproduction. There is however a tendency to focus more on skills and (wider) competence development. However, there is still limited attention for the development of analysing and synthesising skills in the bachelor and master programmes. Writing and oral skills are not really practiced. The huge number of students enrolled in courses is an obvious obstacle for this.

Each bachelor programme is China is based on a number of components:

  • General curriculum, common courses independent of discipline
  • Discipline related courses
  • Open selective courses
  • Graduation thesis

Also each Master programme in China is based on a number of components:

  • General curriculum, equal for all students independent / regardless of the academic field involved
  • Degree related courses
  • Specialisation courses
  • Electives

The general curriculum or common programme is a national / university component decided at national level. It contains courses about the Understanding of Chinese Society (Theory of Marxism) and Foreign Language training. The degree component offers general courses (at master level) which cover the academic field, e.g. Education Sciences. More or less one third is devoted to the field of specialisation, e.g. Comparative Education.

China promotes the use of a credit system which is partly credit hours based. The system seems to have variations between different disciplines in higher education institutions. In the bachelor more than one-third of the credits is devoted to the general curriculum. In the master this is around one-third. More detailed information can be found in conceptual frameworks of Business Administration and Educational Sciences.

China’s Quality Assurance system consists of two parts, an internal and an external quality assurance system. Different parties play a role. In the external system, there is government guidance and a role for government agencies. In the internal system, different approaches are applied, like annual reporting, teacher assessment and peer review. Student evaluations play an important. It is obligatory for students to evaluate (anonymously) each course and the teacher of each course. Access to registration for courses of the following semester is only possible when the student has evaluated all courses taken. The outcomes of the evaluations are part of a university information system that is accessible not only by students and teachers, but also by planners of the university. Students can look at the evaluations of teachers of courses and they have a two week period at the beginning of each semester in which they can switch to another teacher of the same course.

If a course/teacher is not well evaluated, this affects the promotion for teachers for a period up to 3 years. Good evaluations will increase chances for promotion. Teachers are mentored and a teacher training centre is available to teachers to improve their teaching. All professors, including for instance the Vice President and other high-ranking staff of the university have an obligation to teach at least 34 hours per year to undergraduates.