While efforts to build world-class universities have grown around the world in recent years, nowhere has this been more evident than in China. Recognizing the significance and popularity of the global research university that has been favoured by most western conceptualizations of world-class universities and has dominated major global university ranking systems, this paper situates the idea of world-class universities in the Chinese context and proposes an alternative model that is based on the unique Chinese scholarly tradition and has fundamentally different core values and epistemological patterns from the global research university. Critically reflecting on China’s main policies on building world-class universities including the 211 and 985 projects and the most recent Double Top-Class plan, this paper argues that instead of blindly depending on the model of global research university that has deep roots in German and American experience, values institutional autonomy and academic freedom and privileges theoretical and specialized knowledge, China should follow the Chinese model that is deeply rooted in the Chinese Confucian culture and is characterized by self-mastery, intellectual freedom or intellectual authority, institutional diversity and preference of holistic and applied knowledge. However, emphasis on the Chinese model does not mean the exclusion of Western experience. The system of Chinese world-class universities should be open and diverse, continuing to learn from other models and trying to stimulate a dialogue among civilizations. This paper adds insights on interpretations of world-class universities and has some implications for Chinese policy makers on building world-class universities.
Shangcao Yuan, University of Toronto, Canada