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Purpose of education, university reform

Author  :  TIAN GUOQIANG     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2017-02-21


University Reform

Author: Qian Yingyi

Publisher: CITIC Press Group

Qian Yingyi, author of University Reform, is recognized as a leading economist at home and abroad. In the context of modern economics, he delved into educational issues and explored the path of university reform. Using a memoir format, the book records Qian’s thoughts since 2006 when he served as the dean of the School of Economics and Management (SEM) at Tsinghua University. It also presented how Qian uses the basic principles of economics and an analytical framework to guide and promote economics and business education reform and university reform.

On the whole, the two volumes of University Reform mainly talk about two aspects: what makes a university and what a university produces.

The first thing that impressed me in the book was the idea that a university should serve students. This is what Qian brought up in the opening chapter of the book and may be found between the lines. The original value of a university is to educate people. The first target of this education is to help students form an intact personality, and then train them for a profession. Personality outweighs profession. Qian believes that human beings are composed of three aspects: humanity, personality and life, and he also thinks that the modernization of human beings is actually the modernization of value systems.

The second impressive aspect was the idea that teachers are the fundamental driving force of education. Former premier Zhu Rongji mentioned this point at the second meeting of the Advisory Committee of Tsinghua SEM on Apr. 27, 2001, and proposed attracting world-class teachers. From 2002 to 2011, Tsinghua SEM recruited 98 teachers, of which 84 are overseas doctoral degree holders. Especially in 2006, Qian, as the dean of the SEM, furthered the introduction of overseas talent, obviously optimizing the structural composition of the faculty.

The book suggests we should pay attention to the “usefulness of useless knowledge,” a concept brough up by Abraham Flexner, who argued that intellectual and spiritual pursuits, though seemingly useless in short term, may bring about radical changes in the long run. At present, managers of Chinese universities do not know a key basic truth: Both research and teaching emphasize short-term usefulness and utilitarian goals, ignoring original basic research. In particular, some people attack returnees when they publish high-end but “useless” articles in world-class academic journals. This attitude is also a product of utilitarianism. In addition to educating people, the mission of a university is to create knowledge. Of course, this knowledge should be of practical significance to a specific nation, but the more important aspect should be creations that focus on issues common to humanity.

The book also suggests we need to improve the institutional governance of colleges. The most important thing of university governance is inaction, meaning minimizing the rule of man. University teachers are educators and researchers who should not manage the university and faculty like the executive board of enterprises, which has been supported by the modern principal-agent theory. In this circumstance, the more governance, the more trouble would occur.

Editor: Yu Hui

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