Under the “Double First Class” project, China plans to considerably improve the number of globally high-ranked universities in the country by 2050

On September 30, 2017, China marked its 68th National Day. The People’s Republic of China was founded on September 21, 1949 and a ceremony to mark the forming of the government took place in Tiananmen Square on October 1 the same year. So, that makes China two years younger than Pakistan, but decades older when it comes to progress. It already is a force to be reckoned with in industrial, manufacturing and technological sectors and is the second largest economy in the world, making up 15% of the global economy and contributing 25-30% towards global growth.

For many states in the world, such astounding numbers would provide enough motivation to continue doing what they are. But this is China. And it’s discontent still. The Chinese now have their eyes trained on complete global leadership, but in another dimension.

Education is the new frontier Chinese plan to conquer and extensive plans have been put in place to ensure that they do. The Chinese government has shortlisted 42 universities it will rigorously support to become “world class” universities.

First Class Times Two

Under the “Double First Class” project, China plans to improve the number of globally high-ranked universities in the country by 2050. China had two universities – Peking and Tsinghua – among the top 50 in the prestigious Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2018. And considering the Chinese drive, two just won’t do.

The Double First Class programme has been in operation since 2015 and works per a five-year duration. Last month, the government announced the names of 42 universities that are to receive assistance for becoming world-class institutions, while another 95 were shortlisted for support in developing world-class courses.

Eight of the 42 shortlisted varsities – that include Peking and Tsinghua – are located in Beijing, six are in Shanghai and several others are operating along the eastern coast. However, critics say most of the universities named for support lie in the most developed and affluent areas of China and those in poorer regions like Guangxi, Inner Mongolia, Shanxi, Chongqing, Tibet, Qinghai, Hainan, Hebei and Jiangx have been left out.

But what needs to be accounted for is that the fundamental aim of the initiative is making the best Chinese universities “world-class universities” and the government has most likely chosen institutes with the greatest potential to achieve that. It’s a merit based programme that ensures that the best become great.

Independent observers have expressed greater confidence in the shortlisting process, which included selection by an independent committee following peer competitions, expert reviews and government evaluation. And just like a merit scholarship to an individual student, universities receiving the assistance will have to exhibit improvement, as under-performing universities will be disqualified and high performers included in the next round of Double First Class programme.

The programme is set to focus on about 100 academic disciplines that include ones “close to becoming world class”, some disciplines associated with national security and interests, as well as emerging and interdisciplinary subjects. Disciplines that benefit and will be crucial to implementing China’s Belt and Road initiative will also get supported.

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