The Hard Road to Reform

The road to reform is always hard, especially it seems for Shenzhen’s South University of Science and Technology of China (SUSTC), which has been a hot topic for discussion among China’s netizens since July 6th, the first day of the Gaokao, or national college entrance examinations, when 45 students of SUSTC announced that they would not be sitting the exams.

Besides this big news, there are also  good news and bad news for the students and SUSTC. The good news was that SUSTC had received local government approval for self-regulation of its management, which is considered the first “basic law” for a Chinese university.

Shenzhen government websites posted that the university will set up a board of directors, who will be the university’s policymakers. The board will have the right appoint the president and vice-president, examine and approve the university’s regulations, financial reports and development plan.

This is especially good news for University President Zhu Qingshi, who has been fighting for this for a long time. But the good news has been tempered by some bad. Six core founding members have reportedly left the university due to differences of opinion. Chen Yingtian, Ge Moling, Lei Qingquan and three Professors: Li Xiaoyuan, Li Zexiang and Li Jianshu from the Hong Kong University of Science have “disappeared” from the list of professors.

It seems the six educators held the view that some of the university’s practices violate the law of education, they thought the teaching team should be  built in initially, then training programs and management practices should be finalized, and then the school could begin its comprehensive enrollment.

However, Zhu Qingshi, the president, said because of the fierce competition for talented students on the Mainland, SUSTC should recruit its  students first.

It is really a chaotic situation, teachers and scholars are the most important element for a university, and they are the soul of the SUSTC. But now, the students have come, but the teachers have gone.

Which must be very hard, for  Zhu, the 65-year-old prominent chemist and education reform advocate, who’s dream is to make SUSTC a first-class international university.

He has said the current situation is very difficult and said he doubted whether the reform could continue.

“I am still working hard on it, despite of so many difficulties and setbacks,” Zhu said. “What I am longing to do is to set up a liberal university where academics, not administrative officials, are in charge, and students can think critically.”

In fact, many Chinese are very supportive of the higher education reform which started with SUSTC, though in specific implementation, people have different views.

But no matter how hard it is, where there is a will, there is a way.

Write to Peng Bo at pb.bloomberg@gmail.com

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