Higher Education in Britain and China

Higher Education in Britain and China
Abstract: Education is an elusive conception intriguing both ancient sage and modern expert’s strong interests. Responsible intellectuals have been groping for a way junior citizens are cultivated to be a “wise man” who can make good use of human gift of thinking and a “regular guy” who complies with basic principles and social contracts. Higher education is the terminal stage of education and thereby often the yardstick of a country’s academic level. In this paper, I will take a glimpse of higher education in Britain and China, manifesting their history, admission,

achievement and so forth. Also am I going to express my own standpoints of some hot points on modern higher education in China . Controversy, reformation, and vision will be discussed via the method of contrast. Key words: higher education, admission, teaching mode, mechanism, academic spirit, achievement, job hunting, outlook, reformation



Higher education has a long history in Britain. Oxford and Cambridge can be traced back to 12th and 13th centuries, and the Scottish universities of St Andrews, Glasgow, Edinburgh and

Aberdeen to 14th and 15th centuries. At that time, these universities were run by church. The subjects they set up are more religion-concerned than academic-concerned and one of the major functions of them is to provide well-cultivated priests for Roman Catholic. Although progress had been made, the level and scale of higher education still suffered severe restrictions of the supreme govern of Catholicism and feudal dictators. Not until 17th century did higher education embraced a booming age. The embryo of modern system also came into being at that time. Prejudice goes that China is incompetent in the time span of higher education, for the first university Metropolitan University (the predecessor of Perking University) was not founded until 1898. However, from my perspective higher education in China can date back to more than 2000 years ago when Confucius preach his doctrine to the kings, for facilities and teachers are not a necessary part of education while the spread and acquirement of knowledge is the first essence. Similarly, higher education was also gravely impeded by the government policy of “Rejects hundred, alone reveres the Confucian method” whose status had never been shaken since Han Dynasty. Not until Metropolitan University’s founding did modern education conception and method was brought in.


Varied Differences

As is known to all, excellent British pupils should sit “A-level” in order to gain admittance to university. “A-level” stands for “General Certificate of Education-Advanced”, which covers a collection of courses such as math, physics, computer science and economics. The participants should take 3 or 4 courses and spare no effort to get a high grade, for prestigious universities like Cambridge and Oxford usually demand “all A” or “AAB” for enrollment. Whereas, a obscure university may not have so high a requirement. The university you can go to incidentally with your expectations largely hinges on your “A-Level” achievements, so undoubtedly the two preparing years can be very stressful. The counterpart of “A-level” in China is the University Entrance Examination, also called “Gao Kao”. “Gao Kao” is almost the sole access to university and to a better future. When the date of exam is due on June, students, parents, media and the general public all concentrate on the most vital event in education field. The prediction of examination questions, the antecedents in and out the exam hall, and the forecast of admission marks of prestigious universities become “everyday fare” in newspapers, televisions and personal talks.

Although both countries adopt the way of exam to pick up candidates for universities, differences are still obvious. Firstly, the subjects of ‘Gao Kao” is strictly limited compared with its British equivalent. Students prepare “orthodox” courses like Chinese, English and Math instead of alien ones like archaeology or drama. This mode of test apparently hinders individual’s freedom to choose what they do well, and the preference of being distinguished in all the stipulated subjects is disadvantageous for those who is granted unique gifts but may not be as well-rounded as top university expected. Thus, it causes great controversy throughout China. What’s more, “A-level” is more flexible in time and form. Students can whether to take all the subjects all of a piece or to take each one at a different time and the same subjects can be taken more than one time .However, in China ,one subject’s failure presumably means that a wonderful dream shaping in childhood will be disillusioned. 2.2 Teaching Mode

On the whole, we may use “flexibility” to describe British mode and “formality” to outline Chinese mode. In British University there is no fixed text books or bibliography, your texts are in the library and in every aspects of social life related to your specialty. The professor will chose his content of

teaching in accordance with the latest trends and requirements of society. Apart from traditional classes and lectures, informal group work, presentation and manual practices also abound, which improve students’ ability to pose new points as well as to analysis and solve practical problems. All of these make them more competitive in the job market. In contrast, Chinese pattern of teaching is more systematic and rigorous, inheriting the legacy of feudal times. The majesty of teacher prevailing, few disciples dare to defer the supreme authority of their hierophant. This sort of manner ensures the accurate and effective inform of knowledge, while hampers the spirit of innovation. Despite new systems of appraisal of pupils imported from the west, exams still retains its dominant place in evaluating how a student is getting on. That is probably why Chinese “geniuses” sweep almost all the gold medals of IMO, but none manage to get a Nobel Prize. 2.3 Management Mechanism

In Britain, academic comes first in a university. An educational staff is respected for his glorious wit instead of his official title. However, central government also plays a critical role in the supervision of educational quality. Every institution of higher

education shall be stringently inspected by the government to

guarantee high-level service for students and high-quality teaching group. Every year, QQA (Quality Assurance Agency) accords impartial estimation to every course referring to uniform standard so as to give the public a panoramic impression of how each school performs in identical specialty. On the contrary, political influence is so potent in domestic university that sometimes I wonder whether it is an academic institute to share wisdom or an official department to publicize ideology. The perception of class division in political status spreads from the chief chancellor to the elementary staff, form a garish professor to a muted tutor. Under this condition, evils of official sphere such as bribe, fake, and relationship-dominance are plaguing our sacred temple of knowledge. Fortunately, Chinese government has realized the apprehensive situation and radical reformation is under way. 2.4 Academic Spirit

It is no doubt that a university is a place where mind workers take up academic subjects. In early times, Cambridge only set up seven basic subjects, namely grammar, logics, rhetoric, arithmetic, music, astrology, and geometry. Obviously, they were all genuinely academics and were once regarded as ‘arts unable to make a living’ by lower class. Fortunately, Britons uphold this precious tradition of

prizing academics over profit hitherto and I believe this is a very crucial factor sustaining the leading academic level of British Higher Education. In China, this tradition was rage before Liberation. At that time, only people from wealthy family can have an access to higher education due to the high tuition and little spread of secondary education. Although the number of students and the scale of colleges can’t compete with modern university, the academic spirit glitters with epoch-making masters like Lu Xun, Qian Zhongshu and Qian Xuesen. Nowadays, Chinese universities own a tremendous supply of human resources receiving systematical secondary education, a strong support of funds and equipments from central government, and a convenient utilization of digital technique. Pitifully, their achievement is not up to these advantageous conditions. One of the most striking arguments is that China fails to produce a Nobel Prize for a period as long as more than 50 years. I hold that the decline in academic spirit stemming from the profit-dominated education concept and job-directed trend contributes a lot to the resentful failure. Even some top universities in China are not so much like a academic institution as a job service station, spawning gushing uproar and urgent demand of education revolution.



British education is undoubtedly in the front row of world. The most well-known ones are Cambridge and Oxford. They are often referred to together as “Oxbridge”. They are the most productive institutions in producing Nobel Winners. Great minds like Byron, Bacon and Newton have all once taught or studied there. In GB, the most majority of senior civil servants and giants in banking, the media, arts, and education are Oxbridge graduates. They

constitute an “old boy network” which controls the hub of Great Britain. Other universities also provide a great many smart talents for both job markets and academic circle. Since the Opening and Reformation, China has made a considerable progress in higher education. According to the

report of UNESCO, China surpassed USA to become the first rank of numbers of people receiving higher education in 2003. Numerous ambitious graduates varied in levels and specialties make up the most fertile human resources on this planet, rendering China more confident in competition with other big powers. However, a tricky issue is that the quality does not catch up with the quantity. Being short of top university in world scale, reformation and endeavor is still indispensible. Excessive mundane graduates and the abnormal values in vocation selection also make job

hunting quite tense and gloomy.


Outlook and reformation

As far as the above content is concerned, the reader may perceive my partiality on British mechanism. What we may not want to but have to admit is that our higher education still falls fairly behind the state of art. Admission is lacking in flexibility; teaching mode is stereotypical in form; academic spirit is declining in enthusiasm; and achievement is finite in level. However, Chinese education also possesses some exclusive highlights. The scrupulous attitude towards academics, the systematic study on basic knowledge, and the brilliant gift of classical spirit greatly impressed the world. China established celebrated Confucius Academy around the world to propagate the essence of typical eastern concept of education and receive ubiquitous popularity. Furthermore, such ailments as

overdependency on technology (for instance, overusing of computer may lead to decline in arithmetic ability), and decline in diligence are afflicting westerners. Thus, they can’t help moving their eyes eastward. We live in a time when globalization speeds up, when intercultural communication accelerates and when cultural

combination approaches. We are free to absorb every essence

from any other culture , conforming to Lu Xun’s spirit of “Borrowed Method”, but simultaneously we can not be too careful to hold up our ethnic identity, who holds our soul in its hands. In terms of education, fundamental reformation based on modern western mode should be undertaken to address present problems. Admission pattern needs diversifying; teaching method needs altering; management mechanism needs simplifying; and academic spirit needs restoring. Whereas, we ought to conceive fresh ideas and revitalize traditional kernel as well when scrambling up the summit. The vista of Chinese Higher Education must be magnificent and gorgeous as long as government, academic circle and students form a robust joint venture to struggle in the face of impediments and defeats.

Bibliography: An Introduction to the Society and Culture of Major English-speaking Countries


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