Equal but Different: Global and Regional Implications of the Rise of China in Universities and Science

The rapid development of higher education and the associated research in China is now well documented. The gross enrolment ratio, the proportion of school leavers entering tertiary education, rose from 5 per cent in 1996 to 51 per cent in 2017. The number of Chinese mainland universities in the Shanghai ARWU top 500 grew from eight universities in 2005 to 58 in 2018. In physical sciences STEM research, the leading Chinese universities now produce as many high citation research papers, in English, as the leading universities from the United States. The growth of science in China has coincided with the emergence of the global system of science publishing which has now achieved a dominant role in research, and has been built on a high level of internationalisation, including US-China collaboration. In the next period, the processes of rapid growth and improvement in China may become impeded by geo-political conflict, including restrictions on people mobility and exchange of technology, but one suspects that China’s higher education and science systems are now sufficiently developed and self-sufficient to sustain a strong regional and global role under such conditions. The paper will reflect on the similarities and differences between universities in China and Euro-America and the implications of the emerging bipolar world for the evolution of both global higher education and China.

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