Shanxi University on upward journey#China Newsweek#-Sino-US

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Shanxi University on upward journey

Every June, when students sit for the country’s national college entrance examinations (or gaokao), parents pray that their children could be enrolled in universities listed in the Project 211 and Project 985.

Even though the parents know little about the universities, they knew these universities would be good enough because they have the fame to be listed in the projects. Now, “Double Top” universities are another target for these students.

What about other universities not in that list? Some universities have done their best to be listed in the three projects, or to be included into a program that the central government supports.

In the 40th issue of 2018, the China Newsweek magazine ran a cover story on Shanxi University, with a history of more than 100 years and not part of the listed projects, which has been making endeavors for its development.

Below is an excerpt of the article.

An unconventional promotion recently drew attention Shanxi University (SXU) when Huang Guitian, an office director of Peking University, became the president of SXU on September 30.

Shanxi University issued a statement on the promotion on September 21, saying that such a decision would help implement the strategic cooperation between Shanxi province and Peking University on supporting the construction of SXU.

It was the second time for SXU to attract public attention. In February, the university drew public attention when it was enrolled in a ministerial and provincial co-building program, together with other 13 universities.

Among the 14 universities not administered by the Ministry of Education, SXU and Hebei University are the two not listed in the Project 211 and Project 985.

Jia Suotang, former president of SXU who just stepped down, said that SXU is standing at a new starting line, having a new platform and a new strategic opportunity. Through double efforts, it will achieve new breakthroughs, he said.

In fact, after SXU failed to get listed into the Project 211, the university in the country’s midwestern region has always been struggling for survival, seeking ways for development in more than 20 years.

Seeking opportunities

Shanxi University had a glorious time 100 years ago. It was established in 1902 and was one of the three new universities after the Xinhai Revolution of 1911. The other two were Peking University and Tianjin University.

SXU was a university with almost complete range of subjects in early 1950s, including arts, science, engineering, medicine and law schools. But changes came in 1952 and 1953, and the university was separated.

It was in 1959 when the university was re-established with a focus on arts and science. The “cultural revolution” (1966-76) put a stop to its development in a decade. The university started to revive along with the country after that.

In 1995, the State Council, or China’s cabinet, approved the Project 211, aiming to raise the education standards of about 100 universities and a group of disciplines, targeting the level of world-class universities. Project 985 was launched in 1998, selecting universities from Project 211 to be key universities for development.

SXU was not chosen into the Project 211, and the failure has had a profound impact on its further development in a long period, according to the staff of the university.

In 1990s, Shanxi province focused on coal mining, power generation, irrigation system and roads, and the Taiyuan University of Technology that was separated from SXU has advantages, and thus the province supported it.

Shanxi province has listed SXU and Taiyuan University of Technology as key universities for development, but as the Project 211 university, the latter would get more funds from both the project and the province.

A more important thing was that the Ministry of Education guided the work of universities in the projects, but SXU would have no direct contact with the ministry.

An opportunity came in 2004, when Henan and Yunnan provinces signed agreements with the Ministry of Education on co-building Zhengzhou University and Yunnan University. Like the two, SXU tried to grab the opportunity.

In early 2004, the Ministry of Education decided to launch a provincial and ministerial co-building program to cooperate with midwestern provinces and regions to build 14 universities that were not directly under the ministry.

Li Peifeng, an SXU official in the program, said that the ministry realized that the education resources were imbalanced in the country’s eastern and midwestern regions, and expected to support one university in each province or region.

After getting the news, SXU appealed for being enrolled into the program that had only 22 universities before 2011 but was expanded to 120 universities across the country.

It might be because SXU appealed earlier than Taiyuan University of Technology or Shanxi expected to balance education resources or offset the loss from SXU’s failing to be listed in Project 211, Shanxi signed an agreement with the ministry on May 13, 2005 to co-build Shanxi University.

After that SXU has received more special funds from the program. Further, experts from top universities such as Tsinghua and Peking universities offered advice for its development.

Benefits of networking

For the universities not directly under the Ministry of Education, the program is more significant as a platform to join the circle of the top universities under the ministry, with greater access to education information.

However, when the co-building program started to expand in 2011, the initial target of developing higher education in midwestern regions and balancing the educational resources between eastern and midwestern regions was not achieved.

The ministry then decided to launch two projects, the project on basic capability upgrade of universities in midwestern regions and the project on comprehensive capability upgrade of universities in midwestern regions.

Li Peifeng, the secretary of the co-building research center, knew that the comprehensive capability upgrade project was the result of the initial co-building programs, and SXU should join in.

In 2012, SXU successfully joined in the comprehensive capability upgrade project of 14 universities, and the special funds also increased a lot. In four years, every year the university received 100 million yuan from the central government and 50 million yuan from the Shanxi provincial government.

The financial support brought big changes to SXU. It spent a lot on training talents, improving the public service system and laboratories, and attracting high-level scientific teams.

The 14 universities in this project also formed an alliance. They hoped to turn the short-term project (from 2011 to 2015) into long term, and bring in the universities under the ministry in the future.

The alliance submitted their report on extending the project to be a regular project covered in the country’s 13th Five-Year Plan in 2015. When the five-year plan was issued in March 2016, the project was included.

Ministry supervision

The leaders of the 14 universities have all agreed to push for measures which will ensure that the universities gradually enjoy the same policies that the universities under the ministry.

As the deputy to the 12th National People’s Congress, Jia Suotang would bring the motion to the NPC meeting in March every year from 2013 to 2017.

Jia said that it was very important for the universities to be under the ministry, and after getting the status, the universities could ask for more financial support and other resources.

In 2018, they got a step closer to their goal. On February 24, the Ministry of Education held a symposium on launching the project of ministerial and provincial co-building universities.

The project continues to focus on provinces and regions that have no universities under the ministry, supporting Hebei University, Shanxi University, Inner Mongolia University, Nanchang University, Zhengzhou University, Guangxi University, Hainan University, Guizhou University, Yunnan University, Tibet University, Qinghai University, Ningxia University, Xinjiang University and Shihezi University.

The new project changed their description from “provincial and ministerial” to “ministerial and provincial”, which showed that they are listed under the ministry but administered by local authorities, and could be called universities built by ministries.

A staff member said that as Shanxi University is listed in the new project this year, it recruited more talented students, even though it is not a university in Project 211 and Project 985.

The cooperation between Peking University and Shanxi University was the second big development for SXU this year. The university expects to gain support from top universities for many years.

In June and August, Luo Huining, Party chief of Shanxi, and Lou Yangsheng, governor of Shanxi, met with Hao Ping, then Peking University’ Party chief, and Lin Jianhua, Peking University’s president, on the cooperation.

Except for Hua Guitian becoming the president of Shanxi university, among seven vice presidents, two were also from Peking University. Some officials from SXU would also go to Peking University for training.

With support of policies, funds and talents, SXU strives to enter the Double Top plan that was launched last year, aiming to develop some world-class higher education institutions and disciplines in China.

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