In the world of higher education and research, China blows hot and cold. Nineteen years after inventing the Shanghai ranking, the country is about to turn back the clock, as Xi Jinping made clear during a visit to the People’s University in Beijing on April 25. China no longer wants to measure its universities against others, especially American ones: it will henceforth decide for itself the criteria of excellence that should prevail within the establishments, criteria inherited “red gene”according to the chairman-general secretary of the Communist Party’s central committee.
According to’Xinhuanet news agencyduring his speech, Xi Jinping considered it necessary to “rooting in Chinese soil to build world-class universities with Chinese characteristics, and [se] blaze a new path to achieve this, instead of imitating others or simply copying the standards and models of foreign universities”. The objective is assumed: it is necessary “that philosophy and social sciences with Chinese characteristics can really take their place in the world academic community”.
A few days later, on May 9, the People’s, Lanzhou and Nanjing universities (listed in the 101e/150e in 2021, one of the top ten Chinese) announced their decision to withdraw from the international rankings. Technically, the data of these three establishments should therefore not be collected, even if it seems difficult to prohibit the private company Shanghai Ranking from processing public data.
The ranking published on Monday August 15 attests to this, however, the best of the three, Nanjing, no longer appearing in the list of the first 1,000. “What would be stronger is for universities like Tsinghua or Peking University [les deux premières du pays] are forced to go out as well”says Alessia Lefébure, sociologist, author in 2020 of the book The Mandarins 2.0 (Science Po Press).
“Strategy close to the Cold War”
Director of Agro Rennes-Angers, this former representative of Sciences Po in China recalls that the Chinese universities at the top of the rankings were totally unknown in Europe until the 1990s. “It was not easy to impose their notoriety, to achieve a capacity to produce research and to attract foreign students for something other than language and civilization courses, but also major scientific partners to contribute to the China’s economic development, she details. It’s something of a miracle, what China has achieved in thirty years through its public policies. »
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