Falling enrollment numbers do not spell return of elite education

10:53, June 16, 2011      

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According to sources, enrollment at China's Fudan University fell nearly one-fifth in 2011 compared with 10 years ago. In addition, more and more Chinese colleges and universities are also trying to stabilize or even reduce their enrollment numbers. Elite universities reducing enrollment numbers is indeed a breath of fresh air amid a flood of colleges and universities that are increasing enrollment.

The enrollment numbers of colleges and universities have increased, and departments and disciplines have become more comprehensive over the past 10 years. However, "increasing enrollment" is also a double-edged sword. Although an increase in college enrollment allows more students to receive higher education, it also brings many problems, such as diluted educational resources, a decline in teaching quality and diminished employment opportunities for graduates. Therefore, elite universities "reducing enrollment " should be regarded as the regression of rationality. However, some people mistakenly identify declining enrollment numbers as the return of elite education.

Currently, China's higher education has transformed from the previous elite education to the stage of public education. Promoting public education to enhance the overall teaching quality and to highlight characteristic education should be the top priority, and the old road of elite education should not be re-taken.

Elite education is facing the minority, just as its name implies, and the academic accepted standard of the school-age population enrollment rate is no more than 15 percent. As China has a large school-age population base and relatively scarce educational resources, China's higher education followed the elite model in the past. However, China's school-age population base is declining along with economic and social development and an increase in China's investment in education. Therefore, public education has become a general trend. Elite education has cultivated a large number of talented people for China, but simple elite education is unable to meet the demands of talents in today's society.

Shifting attention from the quantity of higher education institutions to educational quality is a process that all developing countries go through. Currently, there remains a considerable gap between the educational quality of China's prestigious and ordinary universities, and only a small number of students have the chance to receive high-quality education.

Although the overall college acceptance rate has been rising in recent years, and admission to ordinary universities has become relatively easy, it is still difficult to enter a prestigious university. High-quality educational resources are concentrated in prestigious universities. If they continue to reduce enrolment and use superior educational resources to serve a minority of students, ordinary universities will continue to be plagued by the unequal distribution of educational resources and poor educational quality.

The quality of higher education should be improved, but that does not mean it is correct to provide elite education to a minority of students while ignoring the needs of the majority. Many people are worried that the enrollment cut will likely exacerbate the polarization between students of prestigious and ordinary universities. Regrettably, their worries are not groundless, given the increasingly fierce competition among prestigious universities in recent years.

Enabling more people to have access to high-quality higher education and more universities to foster more talent with specialty and creativity is the solution to the development of higher education. This is a prerequisite for China to engage in international competition and implement the two major strategies of developing science and education and fostering talent in order to rejuvenate the country.

Therefore, although it is somewhat reasonable for prestigious universities to scale back their recruitment, it is necessary to draw attention to the inequality in the distribution of educational resources between prestigious and common universities. China's overall higher education cannot actually progress in scale and quality without the improvement in the educational quality of numerous ordinary universities.

Education authorities may encourage prestigious universities to proactively exit the fields that they are not good at and strive to support ordinary universities to focus on developing certain advantageous specialties so as to change the status quo in which universities simply seek the expansion in size and are overly similar to each other.

By People's Daily Online and the author is Zhou Jijian from Guangming Daily.

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