Frontiers of Education in China

, Volume 13, Issue 4, pp 513–531 | Cite as

Global Ambitions: Internationalization and China’s Rise as Knowledge Hub

  • Anthony WelchEmail author
Research Article


The four decades since reform and opening up have seen dramatic changes in China’s higher education system. Focusing on international dimensions, the analysis supports the view that reform and opening up was not merely an economic and political reform, but an opening of the mind to the outside world, after the disaster of the Cultural Revolution. But it is important to be reminded that China’s relations with the outside world have a much longer history, with the spread of Confucian ideas to East and Southeast Asia, and the importation of Buddhism from ancient India; both during the Tang dynasty. The article points to key ongoing debates in China about the extent to which it can incorporate ideas from outside, while still retaining a Chinese essence. The rise of China as a knowledge hub and destination for international students is also charted, and the prospects for further development are assessed.


higher education internationalization China’s rise knowledge hub history East-West synthesis 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Academic Ranking of World Universities. (ARWU). (2017). China. Retrieved October 30, 2018, from Scholar
  2. Barlow, T. E., & Lowe, D. M. (1987). Teaching China’s lost generation: Foreign experts in the People’s Republic of China. San Francisco, CA: China Books.Google Scholar
  3. Bhardwa, S. (February 7, 2018). Why more students are choosing to study in China. Times Higher Education. Retrieved September 22, 2018, from https://www.timeshighereducation. com/student/blogs/why-more-students-are-choosing-study-chinaGoogle Scholar
  4. Bothwell, E. (July 10, 2018). China closes scores of Sino-foreign joint programmes. Times Higher Education. Retrieved September 15, 2018, from https://www.timeshighereducation. com/news/china-closes-scores-sino-foreign-joint-programmesGoogle Scholar
  5. Carroll, T., & Jarvis, D. (Eds.). Asia after the developmental state. Disembedding autonomy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Chen, T. (1974) The Maoist educational revolution. New York, NY: Praeger.Google Scholar
  7. China Power. (2018). Are parents indicative of Chinese innovation? Retrieved August 15, 2018, from Scholar
  8. Chong, K. P. (February 27, 2017). China to roll out improved green card. Straits Times. Retrieved August 15, 2018, from Scholar
  9. Communiqué on the current state of the ideological sphere. (document no. 9). (2013). China Copyright and Media. Retrieved November 15, 2018, from https://chinacopyrightandmedia. ere-document-no-9/Google Scholar
  10. Communist Party is redefining what it means to be Chinese. (2017). The Economist. Retrieved November 15, 2018, from Scholar
  11. Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy. (DBEIS). (2018). UK-China joint strategy for science, innovation and industrial cooperation. Retrieved August 14, 2018, from a/file/665199/uk-china-strategy-science-technology-innovation-cooperation.pdfGoogle Scholar
  12. Department of Education and Training. (DET). (n.d.) Approvals processes for Sino-Foreign Joint institutions and Joint programs. Retrieved August 20, 2018, from https://internationaleducation.–Approvals-processes-for-Sino-Foreig n-Joint-institutions-and-Joint-programs.aspxGoogle Scholar
  13. Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft. (DfG). (2018). Joint Sino-German research projects. Retrieved August 20, 2018, from Scholar
  14. Federal Republic of Germany. (2014). Joint declaration between Germany and China. Retrieved September 22, 2018, from Scholar
  15. Frankopan, P. (2015). The Silk Roads: A new history of the world. London, UK: Bloomsbury.Google Scholar
  16. Frietsch, R., & Tagschere, U. (2014). German-Sino collaboration in science, technology and innovation. Fraunhofer ISI Discussion Papers. Innovation Systems and Policy Analysis, (43). Retrieved August 16, 2018, from Scholar
  17. Garnaut, J. (2018). Australia’s China reset. The Monthly. Retrieved August 10, 2018, from na-resetGoogle Scholar
  18. Garnaut, R., Song, L., & Fang, C. (2018). China’s forty years of reform and development: 1978−2018. C anberra, Australia: ANU Press.Google Scholar
  19. Gelber, H. (2007). The dragon and the foreign devil: China and the world, 1100 BC to the present. London, UK: Bloomsbury.Google Scholar
  20. Hanafi, S. (2011). University systems in the Arab East: Publish globally and perish locally vs publish locally and perish globally. Current Sociology, 59(3), 291–309. doi: 10.1177/0011392111400782Google Scholar
  21. Hao, J., & Welch, A. (2012). A tale of sea turtles: Job-seeking experiences of Hai Gui (high-skilled returnees) in China. Higher Education Policy, 25(2), 243–260. doi: 10.1057/hep.2012.4Google Scholar
  22. Hao, J., Wen, W., & Welch, A. (2016). When sojourners return: Employment opportunities and challenges facing high-skilled Chinese returnees. Asian and Pacific Migration Journal, 25(1), 22–40. Scholar
  23. Hayhoe, R. (1993). Chinese universities and the social sciences. Minerva, 31(4), 478–503.Google Scholar
  24. Hayhoe, R. (1996). China’s universities 1895–1995: A century of cultural conflict. New York, NY: Garland.Google Scholar
  25. Hayhoe, R., & Pan, J. (2015). China’s universities on the global stage: Perspectives of university leaders. International Higher Education, 39, 20–22.Google Scholar
  26. Hong Z., & Lou, S. (2011). Development and reform of higher education in China. Oxford, UK: Chandos.Google Scholar
  27. Hu, M. Y., & Willis, L-D. (2017). Towards a common trans-national education framework: Peculiarities in China matter. Higher Education Policy, 30(2), 245–261. Scholar
  28. Institute for Science and Technological Information of China. (ISTIC). (2018). 中国科技论文 的整体表现 [Overall situation of Chinese scientific papers]. Retrieved November 12, 2018, from http://www. Scholar
  29. Jia, H. P. (November 30, 2017). China’s citations catching up. Nature Index. Retrieved August 10, 2018, from Scholar
  30. Kaplan, R. (2017). The return of Marco Polo’s world. Retrieved August 18, 2018, from http://stories.cnas. org/the-return-of-maro-polos-world-and-the-u-s-military-responseGoogle Scholar
  31. Kaplan, R. (2018). Marco Polo redux: Travelling China’s new Silk Road. The return of Marco Polo’s world. New York, NY: Random House.Google Scholar
  32. Kim, D., Song, Q., Liu, J., Liu, Q., & Grimm, A. (2018). Building world class universities in China: exploring faculty’s perceptions, interpretations of and struggles with global forces in higher education. Compare: A Journal of Comparative and International Education, 48(1), 92–109. Scholar
  33. Kuo, K. (2018). Kuora: China’s dramatic fall from grace and its long road back to respectability. Sinica. Retrieved August 20, 2018, from Scholar
  34. Levin, R. (2010). Top of the class: The rise of Asia’s universities. Foreign Affairs. Retrieved September 15, 2018, from Scholar
  35. Li, E. (2018). The rise and fall of soft power. Foreign Policy (August). Retrieved August 20, 2018, from %20-%20Brand%20South%20Africa&utm_keyword=Editor's%20Picks%20OCGoogle Scholar
  36. Li, Y. (2018). Understanding China’s technological rise. The three factors underlying China’s transformation into a rising technology powerhouse. Diplomat (August). Retrieved September 18, 2018, from Scholar
  37. Liu, C. (May 25, 2017). UK and Chinese universities establish research network. China Daily. Retrieved August 20, 2018, from Scholar
  38. Lukin, A. (2018). China and Russia: The new rapprochement. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Polity Press.Google Scholar
  39. Malaysian Qualifications Agency. (MQA). (2011). List of higher education institutions of the People’s Republic of China for the implementation of the “Framework Agreement to Facilitate Mutual Recognition in Academic Higher Education Qualifications” between the government of Malaysia and the government of the People’s Republic of China. Retrieved September 15, 2018, from Scholar
  40. Marco Polo (1871). The book of Ser Marco Polo, the Venetian. (Vols 1 and 2). H. Yule Ed., and trans. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  41. Meyer, M. (2015). In Manchuria. London, UK: Bloomsbury.Google Scholar
  42. Ministry of Education of China. (MOE). (2015). 2014 年全国来华留学生数据统计 [Statistics of foreign students in China in 2014]. Retrieved August 15, 2018, from Scholar
  43. Ministry of Education of China. (MOE). (2018). 2017 sees increase in number of Chinese students studying abroad and returning after overseas studies. Retrieved August 20, 2018, from Scholar
  44. Morgan, J. (2015). China’s ideological push. Retrieved November 15, 2018, from Scholar
  45. National Science Foundation. (NSF). (2014). Science and engineering indicators 2014: A broad base of quantitative information on the U.S. and international science and engineering enterprise. Retrieved September 10, 2018, from Scholar
  46. New York Times. (July 4, 2018). Why Made in China 2025 will succeed, despite Trump. Retrieved August 20, 2018, from Scholar
  47. Oskanian, K. (2013). FPC Briefing: Putin’s Eurasian Union-from pre-electoral sideshow to quest for empire? Foreign Policy Center. Retrieved August 23, 2018, from Scholar
  48. Pepper, S. (1990). China’s education reform in the 1980s: Policies, issues and historical perspectives. Berkeley, CA: University of California (Berkeley), Institute of East Asian Studies, Center for Chinese Studies.Google Scholar
  49. Rhoads, R., Wang, X., Shi, X., & Chang, Y. (2014). China’s rising research universities. A new era of global ambition. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Press.Google Scholar
  50. Saunders, T., & Bound, K. (2013). China’s absorptive state. Research, innovation and the prospects for China UK collaboration. Retrieved August 10, 2018, from Scholar
  51. Sharma, Y. (June 17, 2014). Sino-foreign universities’ group to advise government. University World News. Retrieved August 10, 2018, from 20140617154911673Google Scholar
  52. Sharma, Y. (March 23, 2018). China: One Belt One Road towards a China-led HE area? University World News. Retrieved August 10, 2018, from story=20180323045239515Google Scholar
  53. Sharma, Y. (July 6, 2018). Ministry ends hundreds of Sino-foreign HE partnerships. University World News. Retrieved August 10, 2018, from 20180706154106269Google Scholar
  54. Su, X. H. (2002). Education in China: Reforms and innovations. G. T. Chen Trans. Beijing, China: China Intercontinental Press.Google Scholar
  55. The State Council. (2010). Outline of China’s National Plan for Medium-and Long-Term Education Reform and Development (2010–2020). Retrieved September 20, 2018, from 0.pdfGoogle Scholar
  56. The State Council. (2015). Made in China 2025. Retrieved September 20, 2018, from Scholar
  57. The Star. (2017). Xiamen Lures Bumi and Indian Students. Retrieved August 20, 2018, from s-xmum-offering-scholarships-for-new-intake-in-drive/Google Scholar
  58. Universities Canada. (2017). Canada has everything to gain through research collaboration with China. Retrieved September 10, 2018, from Scholar
  59. Vickers, E., & Zeng, X. D. (2017). Education and society in post-Mao China. London, UK: Routledge.Google Scholar
  60. Voloshin, G. (September 24, 2012). Russia’s Eurasian Union. A bid for hegemony? Geopolitical Monitor. Retrieved August 20, 2018, from Scholar
  61. Wang, H. (2012). What are the implications of a Chinese university model? In K. Mundy & Q. Zha (Eds.), Education and global cultural dialogue: A tribute to Ruth Hayhoe (pp. 139−164). London, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  62. Wang, M-M., (2014). The west as the other: A genealogy of Chinese occidentalism. Hong Kong, China: Chinese University of Hong Kong Press.Google Scholar
  63. Wang, O. (July 10, 2018). Is Beijing going back to the future with its much-hyped “Made in China 2025” plan? South China Morning Post. Retrieved August 20, 2018, from Scholar
  64. Welch, A. (2010). The Internationalization of Vietnamese higher education: Retrospect and prospect. In G. Harman, M. Hayden & T. Nghi Pham (Eds.), Reforming higher education in Vietnam: Challenges and priorities (pp. 197–213). Dordrecht, Netherlands: Springer Netherlands.Google Scholar
  65. Welch, A. (2011). Higher education in Southeast Asia. Blurring borders, changing balance. London, UK: Routledge.Google Scholar
  66. Welch, A. (2014). Ir-regular regionalism? China’s borderlands and ASEAN higher education: trapped in the prism. S. L. Robertson, K. Olds, R. Dale Q. A. (Eds.). Global regionalisms and higher education projects, processes, politics (pp. 166–190). Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar Publishing.Google Scholar
  67. Welch, A. (2016a). Audit culture and academic production: Reshaping Australian social science research output 1993–2013. Higher Education Policy, 29(4), 511–538. doi: 10.1057/s41307-016-0022-8Google Scholar
  68. Welch, A. (2016b). A new epistemic Silk Road? The Chinese knowledge diaspora and its implications for the Europe of knowledge. European Review, 23(S1), 95–111. Scholar
  69. Welch, A. (2017). Higher education and the developmental state. The view from East and Southeast Asia. In T. Carroll & D. Jarvis (Eds.), Asia after the developmental state: Disembedding autonomy (pp. 359–387). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  70. Welch, A. (2018). China’s southern borderlands and ASEAN higher education: A cartography of connectivity. P. Meusburger, P. Heffernan, & L. Saursana. (Eds.), Geographies of the university (pp. 567–602). New York, NY: Springer.Google Scholar
  71. Welch, A. (2019). Corruption and governance in East and Southeast Asian higher education. Close cousins, close encounters. In D. Jarvis, & G. Capano (Eds.), Convergence and diversity in the governance of higher education: Comparative perspectives. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  72. Welch, A., & Cai, H-X. (2010). Enter the dragon. The internationalization of China’s higher education system. In J. Ryan (Ed.), China’s higher education reform and internationalization (pp. 9–33). London, UK: Taylor & Francis.Google Scholar
  73. Welch, A., & Hao, J. (2013). Returnees and diaspora as source of innovation in Chinese higher education. Frontiers of Education in China, 8(2), 214–238. doi: 10.3868/s110-002-013-0016-7Google Scholar
  74. Welch, A., & Hao, J. (2016). Global argonauts: Returnees and diaspora as sources of innovation in China and Israel. Globalization, Societies and Education, 14(2), 272–297. doi: 10.1080/14767724.2015.1026249Google Scholar
  75. Welch, A., & Yang, R. (2011). A Pearl on the Silk Road? Regionalizing a regional university in China. In J. Palmer, A. Roberts, Y. Cho, & G. Ching (Eds.), The internationalization of East Asian higher education: Globalization’s impact (pp. 63–90). New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  76. Welch, A., & Zhang, Z. (2008). Higher education and global talent flows: Brain drain, overseas Chinese intellectuals, and diasporic knowledge networks. Higher Education Policy, 21(4), 519–537. doi: 10.1057/hep.2008.20Google Scholar
  77. Wübbeke, J., Meissner, M., Zenglein, M. J., Ives, J., & Conra, B. (2016). Made in China 2025: The making of a high-tech superpower and consequences for industrial countries. Metrics Papers on China, (2). Retrieved September 20, 2018, from Scholar
  78. Xiamen University Malaysia. (XMUM). (2018). Our partnership. Retrieved December 17, 2018, from Scholar
  79. Xinhuanet. (2015a). Minister warns against “western values” in colleges. Retrieved September 22, 2018, from Scholar
  80. Xinhuanet. (2015b). Opinions concerning further strengthening and improving propaganda and ideology work in higher education under new circumstances. Retrieved November 15, 2018, from Scholar
  81. Xinhuanet. (2018). China, Germany to enhance scientific cooperation: Premier. Retrieved August 20, 2018, from Scholar
  82. Yang, R. (2002). Third delight: The internationalization of higher education in China. London, UK: Routledge.Google Scholar
  83. Yang, R. (2012). Internationalisation, regionalisation and soft power: China’s relations with ASEAN member countries in higher education. Frontiers of Higher Education, 7(4), 486–507. doi: 10.3868/s110-001-012-0025-3Google Scholar
  84. Yang, R. (2013). Indigenised while internationalized? Tensions and dilemmas in China’s modern transformation of social sciences in an age of globalization. In M. Kuhn & K. Okamoto (Eds.), Spatial social thought: Local knowledge in global science encounters (pp. 43−62). Stuttgart, Germany: Ibidem Press.Google Scholar
  85. Yang, R. (2015). Corruption in China’s higher education system: A malignant tumor. International Higher Education, (39), 18–20. doi: 10.6017/ihe.2005.39.7473Google Scholar
  86. Yang, R., & Welch, A. (2010). Globalization, transnational academic mobility and the Chinese knowledge diaspora: An Australian case study. Discourse, 31(5), 593–607. Scholar
  87. Yang, R., Xie, M., & Wen, W. (2018). Pilgrimage to the West: Modern transformations of Chinese intellectual formation in social sciences. Higher Education. doi: 10.1007/s10734-018-0303-9Google Scholar
  88. Yang, R., & Welch, A. (2012). A world-class university in China? The case of Tsinghua. Higher Education, 63(5), 645–666. doi: 10.1007/s10734-011-9465-4Google Scholar
  89. Yang, R., & Yao, J. (2016). Dragon and the tiger cubs: China-ASEAN relations in higher education. In K. Mundy, A. Green, B. Lingard, & A. Verger (Eds.), The handbook of global education policy (pp. 385−400). London, UK: Wiley.Google Scholar
  90. Zheng, W. (November 12, 2018). Shanghai’s jailed top prosecutor “implicates 100 other officials in corruption case.” South China Morning Post. Retrieved November 18, 2018, from Scholar

Copyright information

© Higher Education Press Limited Company and Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Education and Social WorkThe University of SydneySydneyAustralia

Personalised recommendations