Education trailblazer feels hindered, but keeps reforming

By He Shan, June 1, 2011

This is a tough time for Zhu Qingshi, a president of a new university, because a reform he advocated hasn't got the green light from the education authorities, Xin'an Evening News reported on May 29.

His reform, to be carried out at Shenzhen's South University of Science and Technology of China (SUSTC), is considered a challenge to the country's current education system.

SUSTC, a pilot university for Chinese education reform, is marching to the beat of a different drummer. The reform will let professors manage a school instead of an official. It will also allow schools to recruit students who don't take the required national university entrance exam and offer lessons in English.

Officials from the Ministry of Education once said that they would support such a reform, but it turned out to be merely lip service. The ministry excluded SUSTC from its recently released list of universities that are qualified to recruit students in early May.

Under China's current education system, students have to pass the national university entrance exam, or "gaokao", before they are admitted into a university.

SUSTC enrolled 45 students in March even though they didn't take the national exam.

The Ministry of Education responded quickly with a statement at a May 27 news conference: "Any university should be run legally and any education reform should conform to the current education system to protect the legal rights of students."

Yet Zhu Qingshi, the 65-old professor, didn't agree with the statement.

"If a reform is confined to an existing legal framework, any reform wouldn't be successful," said Zhu. "In that case, our reform cannot go on if the authorities set too many restrictions."

"The world's top-notch universities can recruit students and confer diploma independently. What is SUSTC doing is just what a good university should do," he added.

But he confessed the current timing was difficult and said he doubted whether the reform could go on.

"Our reform is warmly received by students and parents, but why do the authorities not support the reform?" he said.

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