Spring 2014

The Chinese Century? The Challenges of Higher Education

William C. Kirby

One can find in any airport kiosk books that proclaim ours to be “the Chinese century.” We have titles such as “The Dragon Awakes,” “China's Rise,” “The Rise of China,” and “China's Ascent,” to name but a few. But to rise is not necessarily to lead. What constitutes leadership? In higher education, China is building the fastest growing system–in quality as well as in quantity–in the world. The foremost global powers of the past four centuries all offered models in the realms of culture, ideas, and education. This may be said of seventeenth-century France under Louis XIV; of the Qing during the Qianlong reign of the eighteenth century; of Britain and Germany in the nineteenth century; and of the United States in the twentieth. China now aspires to educate global elites. For the twenty-first century, then, are Chinese universities poised for global leadership?

WILLIAM C. KIRBY, a Fellow of the American Academy since 2005, is the T. M. Chang Professor of China Studies at Harvard University and the Spangler Family Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. He is a Harvard University Distinguished Service Professor, and the former Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard. His recent publications include the edited volumes The People's Republic of China at 60: An International Assessment (2011) and Prospects for the Professions in China (with William P. Alford and Kenneth Winston, 2011). His latest book is Can China Lead? Reaching the Limits of Power and Growth (with Regina M. Abrami and F. Warren McFarlan, 2014).

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