The latest issue of the International Review of Education includes an examination of what some may see as the surprising failure of many private institutions of higher education in China. In “Turning around low-performing private universities in China,” Xiaofan Li explains that while most private colleges and universities in China disappeared after the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, China’s marketization and privatization efforts included the re-opening of higher education to the private sector in the 1990’s. By 2009, statistics published by the Ministry of Education showed that there were 3,101 public universities in China as well as 812 private universities; however, Li reports that many of these “people-run” institutions are struggling, with approximately 500 of them shut down between 2000 and 2009 for financial, legal or other reasons. Of those private universities that have survived, the quality varies substantially, and they are not viewed as being on par with most public universities. Yet, in a country of more than a billion people, these institutions have opened up many new options for those who have been unable to get a place in public universities either because of their age, lack of qualifications, or the limited number of places. At the same time, quality assurance has been and will continue to be the most pronounced and crucial issue that private universities wrestle with. As Stephen Roche explains in the introduction to the issue, Li “considers several factors that contributed to poor performance, including insufficient resources, heavy government control, insufficient enrollments, lack of qualified teachers, limited programme breadth, and problems of scale,” and goes on to examine strategies for turning around low-performing private institutions and helping the government achieve its target of a 40% participation rate in higher education by 2020.
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