CHINA: Private universities enrol millions

As China has moved rapidly to mass higher education since its groundbreaking 1999 decision on expansion, private universities have come to account for 6.6% of student enrolments, or about 1.34 million of the 20.2 million students enrolled in formal higher education in 2006, write Professor Ruth Hayhoe of the University of Toronto and Professor Jing Lin of the University of Maryland in the spring edition of International Higher Education, the journal of the Boston College Centre for International Higher Education. Major public universities have also contributed, not only by expanding their regular enrolments but also by setting up second-tier colleges - income-generating extensions that benefit from the university's self-accrediting status and its qualified faculty. These effective private institutions have enrolments of 1.47 million students, around 7.3% of the total.

In a summary of their article, the authors provide a description of a case study that answers some of the questions around how independent universities have managed to compete, "given the advantaged position of second-tier colleges". Yellow River University of Science and Technology in Henan province was the first university to enrol government-approved diploma students in 1994 and the first to enrol degree students in 1999. By 2007, university had 13,000 students in 37 degree programmes, another 5,000 in diploma and certificate programmes and 1,500 in adult education. It was also cooperating with two top public universities to run a small number of masters programmes.

These numbers make Yellow River a leader among independent private universities - only 24 are now accredited to run degree programmes, with more than 1,250 others focusing on teaching at the sub-degree level. The authors go on to describe reasons for the institution's success, which include focussing on regionally appropriate niche areas, employing retired professors from public institutions, developing teaching excellence and building research.

Ruth Hayhoe is a professor in the Department of Theory and Policy Studies at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto, and Jing Lin is a professor in the Department of Educational Policy and Leadership at the University of Maryland.

Full summary on the International Higher Education site