China will spend nearly $250 billion a year on educating tens of millions of youth moving from rural to urban areas, claimed a report by the New York Times on Wednesday, underlying the nation's need to develop a multifaceted labour force in order to support further economic growth.
China's economic growth rate increases to 7.9 percent in the fourth quarter
According to NYT, China has doubled the number of colleges and universities to 2,409 over the last decade; while the government also expects to produce nearly 195 million community college and university graduates by 2020 - compared with no more than 120 million in the US by that time.
The new graduates, based on China's current five-year plan, will fill roles in emerging industries such as alternative energy, energy efficiency, environmental protection, biotechnology, advanced information technologies and high-end equipment manufacturing, said NYT, noting that China also has plans to invest up to $1.6 trillion to expand these industries to 8 percent of economic output by 2015.
However, even the government acknowledges that volume does not make up for quality. In 2011, China's then President, Hu Jintao, admitted that the country's higher education system was still inferior to those of the West, calling for a gradual improvement in teaching standards across the nation.
"While people receive a good education, there are significant gaps compared with the advanced international level," he said.
Among the biggest problems in the education system is the lack of good professors. According toNYT, all but the best universities must find teachers among recent graduates, who may lack experience, or retirees, whose knowledge may be out of date.
Some senior professors, dissatisfied with their university pay, also start companies on the side, said Weng Cuifen, a National University of Singapore researcher who studies Chinese university education. "They spend their time on second jobs, making money."
The consequence of this has seen a growing number of students leaving China to attend foreign universities. Chinese undergraduate or graduate students at American universities reached a record high of 194,000 in the last academic year, according to the Institute of International Education in New York, almost triple the 67,000 five years earlier.
Nevertheless the goal is still to create a world-class educational system locally, especially as most Chinese undergraduates who study in the West tend to come from wealthy families, while graduate students are sent overseas thanks to government scholarships.
"A Chinese graduate from a second-tier university (in China) is not the equal of an American in language skills and cultural familiarity," said Giles Chance, a visiting professor at Peking University.
Chance also noted that many of the new Chinese college graduates simply did not have the skills to compete internationally in the services sectors - especially in healthcare, sales or consumer banking.
At a lower level, only one in six Chinese 17-year-olds, as recently as 1996, graduated from high school. Now, three in five young Chinese graduate from high school, with China on track the meet the U.S.'s current high school graduation rate for 18-year-olds of 75 percent within the next seven years.
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