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Universities Urged to Reform Amid Fears of Brain Drain
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Amid concerns that the most talented high school students are choosing to study outside the Chinese mainland the country's universities are looking for sound educational reforms to ensure they remain at home. 

This summer more than 30,000 students applied to study in six Hong Kong-based universities, which could take only 1,000 freshmen from the mainland.

Mainland newspapers cried out that the country's top two universities, Peking and Tsinghua, once considered by the top students as their No.1 choices, would soon go into decline.

Universities outside the mainland are gradually being allowed to enroll more undergraduate students from the mainland. This sector was once off-limits.

A couple of the best students in China have turned down offers from prestigious mainland universities to go and study in Hong Kong. The lure of high quality teaching, generous scholarships and bright job prospects is often too great.

And an online survey conducted by one of China's largest Internet news websites found that 66.5 percent of the respondents preferred Hong Kong universities to mainland institutions.

"For our mainland students at undergraduate level, two-thirds will seek employment in Hong Kong or pursue graduate courses overseas, with only one-third choosing to return home," said Lap-Chee Tsui, chancellor of the University of Hong Kong.

Tsui said his school, this year alone, received more than 10,000 applications from the mainland for only 300 places.

Speaking globally the mainland's universities lag behind on such things as school facilities, faculty quality, campus culture and school structure, said Cai Dafeng, vice president of Shanghai-based Fudan University. "As education globalization accelerates talents will continue to leave the mainland to seek a better education," Cai added.

Liu Zeting, a 19-year-old high school student, turned down Tsinghua University for a place at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) after interviews with both.

"There was no interaction between the teachers and me in the Tsinghua interview," Liu said. "The staff at Tsinghua kept asking me academic questions while those at HKUST asked me to talk about myself and allowed me time to raise questions," Liu said.

"The exodus to Hong Kong might be just the first step. As China's education system further opens up to the world, the competition will be much more fierce," Cai said.

At the seven-day Third Chinese-Foreign University Presidents Forum that closed yesterday in Shanghai, 143 university heads criticized the shortcomings of the country's current higher education system and exchanged views on ways to save China's higher learning institutions amid global competition.

China has the largest number of college and university students in the world at 23 million. Despite continuous reform efforts experts in education said the current system still had many defects.

University presidents blasted rampant academic fraud, criticized teaching approaches and an inappropriate evaluation system, and called for stronger government funding for higher education and scientific research.

"Problems in university education have severely stifled great talents," said Zhu Qingshi, president of the University of Science and Technology of China. "Fortunately, Chinese educational circles have come to realize it and are making efforts to bring about change."

"Nurturing innovative talents and reforming universities are expected to be painstaking and time-consuming, but we have the determination and courage to take up the challenge and strive for a better future for our universities," said Vice Education Minister Zhang Xinsheng.

"We will first enhance liberal arts education at undergraduate level to train our students as problem-solvers and innovative thinkers who also possess high ethical standards and leadership qualities," Zhang said. "This will be a historic move in our higher education reform."

(Xinhua News Agency July 19, 2006)

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