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Excellence through General Education: The Status of General Education Reform in Chinese Universities

  • Author(s): Liao, Xuehong
  • Advisor(s): Rust, Val D.
  • et al.

In this dissertation, I explore the reasons behind general education reform in Chinese universities from a global and local perspective; I look at the status of general education in two top-tier universities, and, examining faculty members' participation in general education policy development and their experiences with general education practice on their campuses, I try to understand the difficulties of implementing general education in the Chinese university context. Theoretical frameworks include theories of globalization and the interaction of the global and the local, institutional theories from Meyer et al., and Weick's organizational theory of viewing an organization as a loosely coupled system. This study adopts a qualitative case study approach, and two top-tier Chinese universities were selected as cases. For each university, four to five administrators were interviewed to understand the university's general education reform process and its current status. Three to four faculty members from the Chinese departments and chemistry departments were also interviewed in order to understand faculty members' participation and experience in the university's general education reform.

The findings include the following: General education reform in top-tier Chinese universities is part of these universities' response to changing local and global contexts, and is tied to the universities' need to broaden undergraduate curriculum and the goal of becoming world-class universities. The reform at both universities was a top-down initiative and most faculty members did not participate in the policy making and implementation process. Because of the lack of involvement in policy making and implementation, faculty members lack a shared view with the university administration sector as to what general education is trying to accomplish. Faculty members' participation in general education practice is mainly reflected in teaching general education courses. Because of the current faculty promotion criteria and the tradition of emphasizing one's specialty, faculty members usually are not interested in teaching general education courses unless they are really passionate about general education.

This study offers a more comprehensive perspective for looking at the larger context of general education reform in Chinese universities and helps to understand connections with the larger national and global background. It offers its reader a more inclusive understanding of how different shareholders on campus have participated and experienced the reform as well as some of the barriers that have hindered general education practice in the two institutions. The study presents valuable experiences to other Chinese universities that are trying to pursue general education reform. Since an increasing number of Chinese students are studying for graduate degrees in other countries, this study also introduces readers from English-speaking countries to the Chinese university's system of undergraduate education, its recent reform, and how it is connected to the larger global higher education system.

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