Twenty-one delegates from universities in China's Shaanxi province visited HGSE recently to take part in a program designed by Programs in Professional Education specifically for them. The program,"Fostering Higher Education Leadership and Innovation," was developed with the particular goal of providing the delegation with greater insight into the United States higher education system.
"Chinese higher education is growing incredibly fast," says Senior Lecturer Judith McLaughlin, educational cochair of the program. "China presently has 31 million students enrolled in higher education and produces more Ph.D.s than any other country. The Shaanxi province alone has 1.2 million students. With such tremendous growth, the university leaders are looking for new ideas and examples of excellence."
Fang Guanghua, deputy director/general of the Shaanxi Provincial Department of Education, explains that the state of higher education development requires that the delegates learn more about the philosophy and operation of the United States system. They sought out Harvard specifically to learn more, he says, about economic development, how to cultivate innovative and creative students, and how to help internationalize their students.
The eight-day program cochaired by McLaughlin and Joe Zolner, senior director of the Harvard Institutes for Higher Education, explored various aspects of American higher education. Topics covered included strategic planning, economic and social development, higher education finance, history and governance, the structure of the U.S. higher education system, and the role of higher education in promoting regional and national growth. Sessions were given by faculty including Professors Fernando Reimers, Bridget Terry Long, and Julie Reuben; Associate Professor Vanessa Fong; and Senior Lecturer James Honan, as well as faculty from nearby institutions including University of Massachusetts President Jack Wilson and Harvard University's Richard Hackman and William Kirby. Among other faculty presenters were Patricia O'Brien, Ed.M.'91, Ed.D.'95, deputy director of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges; and Michael Thomas, Ed.M.'95, Ed.D.'02, president and CEO of the New England Board of Education.
The program also provided an opportunity for the participants to visit a range of colleges and universities including Harvard, Bridgewater State University, Bentley University, and the University of Massachusetts at Lowell. This, says McLaughlin, allowed the participants a firsthand view of the diversity of higher education institutions in America.
Guanghua acknowledges that there are advantages and disadvantages when comparing the two systems. "The strengths of the Chinese system are the strong, purpose-oriented style and consistency within the system," he says. "However, the strengths of the U.S. system are its diversity and autonomy. This is what we need to learn."
For his part, Guanghua is optimistic about how the program will impact China's higher education system. "Higher education is not just a means, it is an end. We should reflect on what the meaning is that the current world granted. We should focus more on how to help our people to be more civic, in order to have better mutual understanding, mutual collaboration, and mutual tolerance," he says.
McLaughlin hopes the program provided an opportunity for the delegates to learn about different ways of doing things and highlighted U.S. institutions of higher education "not as models to emulate but to stimulate their thinking about what is best for China."
Guanghua is grateful for the opportunity to study at Harvard, concluding that there is still so much more to digest from the experience. "We are happy, and the faculty in this program will definitely know our happiness, even though they may not be able to calculate exactly how each person benefited," he says.