CHINA: oferta o demanda de educación superior
Octubre 14, 2023

China’s tuition fee hikes ‘could foreshadow’ marketised HE system

Beijing is ‘actively seeking to deter many young people from pursuing a degree’ to stem graduate unemployment, researcher says
October 10, 2023

Universities across China are raising their tuition fees as the academic year begins, in a move that some academics believe could signal a shift to a Western-style market system.

After roughly a decade of stagnant fees, this year dozens of institutions have announced hikes – at some, charges have gone up by more than 50 per cent compared with last year. Experts said such rises had been a long time coming, after years of relatively cheap education and growing financial pressures on institutions.

At East China University of Science and Technologytuition fees for 2023-24 have climbed from RMB 5,000 (£572) to RMB 7,700 – a 54 per cent rise. At Shanghai University of Electric Power, the standard tuition fee, previously capped at RMB 5,000, has been raised to RMB 7,000.

A number of local educational authorities have also adjusted their guidance to universities, with Shanghai, Jilin and Sichuan among the provinces that have announced similar adjustments since January.

China’s government had sought to hold fees low for many years in a bid to promote higher education’s expansion, ordering a five-year freeze in 2007 in response to universities’ increases. There was another round of hikes in 2014, but fees have remained largely stable since then.

If such increases become widespread, they could bring China closer towards a Western-style higher education system, where the cost of study is tied more closely to demand, some scholars believe.

“I think this sort of market mechanism…will eventually be the norm in Chinese universities, especially as they’re gearing up to be a world-class university system,” said James Chin, professor of Asian studies at the University of Tasmania.

He said such a change might also help to prepare institutions to take in “a lot more” international students.

“Right now, most of the international students studying in Chinese universities go to only the elite universities,” he said. “I suspect they want the number to be spread wider, with more…going to the non-elite universities, especially the regional universities, places like Hunan, which is not widely known.”

Edward Vickers, who researches the contemporary history of education in Chinese societies at Kyushu University, said there was “already an element” of the market system at play, with China’s elite public universities tending to charge less than private ones – and cost often having an “inverse relationship” with quality or prestige of universities.

But he believed the recent fee changes had more to do with China’s economic stagnation.

“This policy shift is fundamentally related to growing concern in government circles over very high levels of unemployment amongst educated youth in China’s cities,” he said.

“It is actively seeking to deter many young people from pursuing a university education, because it fears the socially and politically destabilising effects of increasing graduate unemployment. There has been a concerted effort to promote ‘alternative’ career choices for young people, especially involving entrepreneurship.”

Other scholars were less convinced that China’s higher education system was heading towards marketisation. “The vast majority of students will not go to cheaper universities or not go to university because of tuition increases,” said Futao Huang, professor of higher education at Hiroshima University.

Still, universities should take care not to overshoot the mark, warned Chia-Ming Hsueh, vice-dean of the Office of International Affairs at Minghsin University of Science and Technology in Taiwan.

“Raising tuition fees also depends on market acceptance. I believe that people are willing to spend money on education that is expensive but worthwhile…however, if the value provided differs from the increased tuition, it could result in enrolment difficulties,” he said.

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