PKU-Stanford Forum (2016) Academic Bulletin (IV)

Building World-Class Universities: An Institutional Perspective 

On the afternoon of November 5th, the fourth and last panel session of the PKU-Stanford Forum, which is also the Education Sub-form of Beijing Forum (2016), was held at the Stanford Center of Peking University. Scholars from the United States, Hong Kong, Canada, Pakistan and China held a heated discussion on the theme of “World-class Universities and Social Development.” This session is chaired by Gi-Wook Shin, Professor of Stanford University.

Professor John W. Meyer of Stanford University delivered a speech named “Societal Effects of University Expansion”. This speech analyzed the enormous expansion of tertiary education across the world and its effects on society. The speech showed how this expansion had resulted in increasing in such societal organizations as professional associations, civil society organizations, and rules of transparency across the world. It had also led to increasing homogenization of content in universities and flattening of culture as represented in “cosmopolitanism.” Cross-national analyses of the effects of tertiary educational expansion also strongly correlated with expansion in the service sector compared to other traditional sectors as manufacturing, agriculture and industry.

Chia-wei Woo, President Emeritus and Professor Emeritus of Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, asked what the function of a “university” was; and what we meant by “world-class universities.” He suggested that each higher education institution must be judged on the bases of its own mission, objectives, and added value – each to develop accordingly, and each to strive towards becoming world-class among its peers.

Four scholars participated in the panel discussion following the keynote speeches. Xueguang Zhou, Professor from Stanford University, offered a sociological analysis of the university ranking phenomenon focusing on the institutional logic of ranking. Professor Xueguang Zhou concluded that, institutional conditions generated the grand trend of legitimizing various ranking orders and helped explaining variation thereof. However, with respect to ranking of universities, the multiple ranking systems suggest that the system is not yet settled and the question remains as to whether there is a stable, consistent and reliable ranking order for tertiary education across social contexts. 

Ruth Hayhoe, Professor from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto, explored what Chinese historical civilization had to offer and how Chinese universities embodied and communicated Chinese civilizational identity. She identified two little noticed areas where it was possible to see a convergence between Chinese patterns and those in Europe (especially in France) that might be starting points for reflection. One was the relationship of the university to the state, and the other one was the curriculum and student-teacher relations in teaching universities. On these two historical aspects, Professor Ruth Hayhoe suggested that the Chinese model and the French model might have some convergence.   

From a socioeconomic perspective, Amer Ahmad Hashmi, Advisor of the National University of Sciences & Technology in Pakistan discussed the role of universities in socioeconomic growth. He attempted to enumerate different ways in which universities promoted their age-old function in new ways.

Finally, Professor Wei Ha from Peking University argued that attracting talents among Chinese expatriates was one of the main features of its endeavor to build world class universities. By using demographic information and publication records of the first two cohorts of returnees sponsored by the “Young 1000 Talent” program, Professor Ha explored the factors that determined the performance of these returnees and their relative performances compared to those who decided not to return to their motherland.

After this last session, a short concluding session was held between Prof. Weifang Min, President of Chinese Society of Educational Development Strategy (CSEDS) and Honorary Dean of Graduate School of Education, Peking University, and Prof. Ann M. Arvin, Vice Provost of Stanford University. Prof. Jean C. Oi, Director of SCPKU, served as the chair. Conference speeches were briefly summarized, and a discussion on the implications for reforming higher education was engaged.