Tendencies to marketization and privatization in higher education, along with other factors, have challenged the idea of higher education as a public good in many countries over the years. China has experienced this situation to some extent. During the last 20 years, this has triggered various discussions on higher education and public good(s) in China. Drawing on qualitative data from 24 semi-structured interviews in both government departments and universities, this study defines and explores public and common good(s) in relation to higher education in China. As the first empirical study on this theme in the country, it is argued that this study makes a significant and original contribution to knowledge with international relevance. This paper identifies the complex nature of higher education in China and proposes that it may be better described in relation to common good(s). Also, as a common good, higher education in China contributes to the (global) common good and generates (global) common goods in many aspects.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Barzel, Y. (1969). The market for a semipublic good: the case of the American economic review. The American Economic Review, 61(4), 665–674.
Buchanan, J. M. (1965). An economic theory of clubs. Economica, 32(125), 1–14.
Cheng, H. Q. (2006). Shi lun zheng fu zai gao deng jiao yu zhong de ze ren: gong gong wu pin li lun de shi jiao [A discussion on the responsibility of the government: a perspective of public good]. Jiangsu gao jiao, 3, 47–49.
Deneulin, S., & Townsend, N. (2007). Public goods, global public goods and the common good. International Journal of Social Economics, 34(1/2), 19–36.
Gao, W. J. (2018). Jiao yu: “quan qiu gong tong li yi” de ren zhi yu wo guo zhi ye jiao yu de xing si [Education: the understanding of “the global common good” and China’s vocational education]. Zhong guo zhi ye jiao yu, 06, 44–52.
Guo, L. (2005). Gong gong wu pin yi huo si ren wu pin—guan yu jiao yu she hui ding wei de yi ge li lun kun jing fen xi [A public good or a private good? A theoretic dilemma and analysis of higher education’s social positioning]. Guo jia jiao yu xing zheng xue yuan xue bao, 2, 43–48.
Hollenbach, D. (2002). The common good and Christian ethics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Huang, X. H. (2014). Cong gong gong wu pin dao gong gong fu wu—gai nian shan bian zhong xue ke yan jiu shi jiao de zhuan bian [From public good to public service—the change of disciplinary research perspective in the conceptual evolution]. Xue xi lun tan, 12, 44–49.
Huang, J. X., & Tang, X. M. (2017). Cong gong yi shi ye dao gong tong li yi—cong lian he guo jiao ke wen zu zhi jiao yu li nian de zhuan bian tan qi [From public good to common good: start with the transition of education concepts from UNESCO]. Jiao yu fa zhan yan jiu, 09, 78–84.
Kaul, I., Grunberg, I., & Stern, M. (1999). Global public goods: international cooperation in the 21st century. New York: Oxford University Press.
Ke, Y. X. (1999). Gao deng jiao yu chan ye xing yu gong yi xing de mao dun chong tu ji qi xie tiao [The contradiction and coordination between the industrialization and the public good of higher education]. You se jin shu gao jiao yan jiu, 04, 7–9.
Lao, K. S. (2002). She hui zhuan xing yu jiao yu de chong xin ding wei [Social transformation and the reorientation of education]. Jiao yu yan jiu, 2, 3–7.
Lao, K. S. (2003). Mian lin tiao zhan de jiao yu gong yi xing [Challenges to the public good of higher education]. Jiao yu yan jiu, 02, 3–9.
Layder, D. (2013). Doing excellent small-scale research. London: SAGE.
Li, C. (2002). Gong gong wu pin de chan quan fen xi ji gong ji an pai [The ownership and supply arrangement of public goods]. Jing ji ti zhi gai ge, 4, 41–44.
Li, Z. (2009a). Lun ming ban gao deng jiao yu gong yi xing de shi xian [A discussion on the realization of the public good in private higher education]. Gao deng jiao yu yan jiu, 30(09), 49–54.
Li, Z. J. (2009b). Samuelson gong gong wu pin de xing zhi ji qi luo ji yun han [The nature and logical implication of Samuelson’s public goods]. Nanjing shi da xue bao (she hui ke xue ban), 5, 45–51.
Li, W. G. (2010). Zi ben de zhu li yu jiao yu de gong yi xing—Min ban gao xiao de fei ying li xing tan tao [Profit-seeking of capital and the public good of education: Discussion on the “non-profit” aspects of private institutions]. Zhong guo gao jiao yan jiu, (10), 46–48.
Li, J., & Guan, L. X. (2009). Gao deng jiao yu gong ji: ji yu jing ji xue shi jiao de fen xi [Higher education supply: an analysis based on the perspective of economics]. Hei long jiang gao jiao yan jiu, 04, 14–17.
Li, Y., & Xu, X. T. (2010). Lun wo guo gao deng jiao yu de shi chang hua—gong gong wu pin li lun de jiao du [The marketization of China’s higher education—from the perspective of public good theory]. Zhong wai qi ye jia, 14, 28–29.
Locatelli, R. (2016). Education as a public and common good: revisiting the role of the State in a context of growing marketization. Doctoral Thesis. School of Doctoral Studies. University of Bergamo.
Ma, J. (2012). Gong gong wu pin wen ti: wen xian su ping [Issues of public goods: a literature review]. Zhong hua nv zi xue yuan xue bao, 1, 5–17.
Marginson, S. (2018). Public/private in higher education: a synthesis of economic and political approaches. Studies in Higher Education, 43(2), 322–337.
Marmolo, E. (1999). A constitutional theory of public goods. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 38(1), 27–42.
Mi, H., & Li, X. W. (2009). Gong yi xing: ming ban gao xiao fa zhan de xian shi guan zhao—jian lun gao deng jiao yu de chan ye shu xing [Public welfare: a realistic choice of private university development—concurrently discussing the industrial attributes of private higher education]. Shanxi da xue xue bao (zhe xue she hui ke xue ban), 32(3), 95–100.
Morrell, K. (2009). Governance and the public good. Public Administration., 87(3), 538–556.
Ostrom, E. (1990). Governing the commons: the evolution of institutions for collective action. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Pearsall, J. (Ed.). (1998). The new Oxford dictionary of English. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Samuelson, P. A. (1954). The pure theory of public expenditure. The Review of Economics and Statistics, 36(4), 387–389.
Shen, M. H., & Xie, H. M. (2009). Gong gong wu pin wen ti ji qi jie jue si lu—gong gong wu pin li lun wen xian zong shu [Public goods issues and their solutions—a literature review public goods theory]. Zhejiang da xue xue bao (ren wen she hui ke xue ban), 39(6), 133–144.
Shi, Q. H. (2002). Gao deng jiao yu chan ye hua qu shi [The trend of industrialization in higher education]. Xia men da xue xue bao (zhe xue she hui ke xue ban), 05, 84–92.
Song, Q., & Rao, C. M. (2018). Zhuo yan quan qiu gong tong li yi: “shi jie gong min” jiao yu de guo ji yan jiu xin qu shi [Focus on global common good: The new international research trend on world citizenship education]. Xian dai jiao yu guan li, (2), 106–111.
Su, L. Q. (2009). Gong gong xing: gao deng jiao yu de ji ben shu xing [Public goods: the basic attribute of higher education]. Xian dai jiao yu ke xue, 3, 71–72.
The Ministry of Education. (1998). Higher education law of the People’s Republic of China. Retrieved August 5, 2017, from http://en.moe.gov.cn/Resources/Laws_and_Policies/201506/t20150626_191386.html.
Tilak, J. B. (2008). Higher education: a public good or a commodity for trade? Prospects, 38(4), 449–466.
Tong, G. H. (2013). Gong gong wu pin gai nian de zheng ce han yi—ji yu wen xian he xian shi de shuang chong si kao [The policy implication of the concept of public good—basing on the dual thinking of literature and reality]. Cai mao jing ji, 1, 39–45.
UNESCO. (2015). Rethinking education. InTowards a global common good? Paris: UNESCO Retrieved January 28, 2017, from http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0023/002325/232555e.pdf.
Wang, H. Y. (2007). “Si yi xing”, “gong yi xing” yu “zhun gong yi xing”—guo jia guan nian yu shi chang luo ji hu dong xia jiao yu shu xing de yan bian [“Private good”, “public good” and “quasi-public good”—the evolution of educational attributes under the interaction of state concept and market logic]. Jiao yu li lun yu shi jian., 27(8), 3–7.
Wen, Z. B. (2008). Fu wu shang pin: guo ji mao yi bei jing xia de gao deng jiao yu shu xing [Service commodity: new attributes of higher education under the background of international trade]. Bi jiao jiao yu yan jiu, 1, 77–81.
Xu, W. G. (2004). She hui xing tai, zheng zhi quan li he jiao yu ti zhi—dang dai zhong guo jiao yu ti zhi gai ge de luo ji [Social formation, political power and educational system—the logic of contemporary China’s educational system reform]. Fu dan jiao yu lun tan., 2(4), 21–25.
Yang, X. X. (2004). Cong gong yi xing yu chan ye xing jiao du kan zheng fu jiao yu zhi neng cuo wei [The dislocation of government’s educational function from a perspective of public goods and industrilization]. Dang dai jiao yu lun tan, 4, 12–14.
Yang, M. (2007). Zhong guo jiao yu chan pin ti gong fang shi de xian zhuang fen xi he zheng ce xuan ze [An analysis of the current situation of China’s educational products delivery and policy options]. Zhe jiang da xue xue bao (ren wen she hui ke xue ban), 06, 99–107.
Yang, R. T. (2009). Cong gao deng jiao yu chan pin de xing zhi kan gao deng jiao yu de gong ji [An analysis of the provision of higher education based on the nature of higher education products]. Gao xiao jiao yu guan li, 3(03), 21–25.
Yang, D. G., & Zhang, X. (2000). Lun jiao yu de gong yi xing he chan ye xing [The public goods and industrialization of education]. Jiangsu gao jiao, 5, 3–8.
Yi, L. Y. (2018). Quan qiu gong tong li yi shi yu xia de zhong xiao xue de yu ke cheng gai ge si kao [Some thoughts on moral education reform in elementary and secondary schools from the perspective of the global common good]. Jiao yu xue bao, 14(01), 45–50.
Yuan, Q. L. (2009). Lun gao deng jiao yu de gong yi xing yu si yi xing [On the public welfare and private good of higher education]. Gao deng jiao yu yan jiu., 30(8), 43–48.
Zang, X. H., & Qu, C. (2002). Cong ke guan shu xing dao xie zheng jue ce—lun “gong gong wu pin” gai nian de fa zhan yu yan bian [From objective attributes to constitutional choice—the development and evolution of the concept of “public goods”]. Shan dong da xue xue bao (ren wen she hui ke xue ban), 2, 37–44.
Zhang, P. G. (2015). Gong chan, fu li yu guo jia [The commons, welfare and the state]. Guilin: Guangxi Normal University Press.
Zhang, J. W., & Qi, S. Y. (2016). Gong gong wu pin gai nian ding yi de que xian ji chong xin jian gou [Defects of the concept of public goods and its reconstruction]. Cai zheng yan jiu, 8, 2–13.
Zhou, Z. Q. (2005). Gong gong wu pin gai nian de yan shen ji qi zheng ce han yi [The extension of the concept of public good and its policy implications]. Jing ji xue dong tai., 9, 25–28.
This study was partly funded by the ESRC (Economic and Social Research Council) and HEFCE (Higher Education Funding Council for England) (grant number: ES/M010082/1).
About this article
Cite this article
Tian, L., Liu, N.C. Rethinking higher education in China as a common good. High Educ 77, 623–640 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-018-0295-5
- Public good(s)
- Common good(s)
- Higher education