Policy decoupling in strategic response to the double world-class project: evidence from elite universities in China

Abstract

Creating world-class universities (WCUs) has recently become a significant policy and practice in higher education in China under the Double World-Class Project. However, some negative effects have encouraged decoupling from the policy goals. To identify the reasons, we conducted policy document analysis and purposive interviews at three elite universities, focusing on financial funding, discipline development, and human resources. First, the uneven funding plans by central and local governments shape non-competitive environments for universities, hindering the dynamic adjustment of the Double World-Class Project. Second, universities have closed or merged programs in weak academic disciplines to gain legitimacy and stability in conformance to WCU guidelines. Last, as a result of the unbalanced development of universities in east, middle, and west China, universities in the west are facing a serious brain drain. To achieve a higher level of performance, an increasing number of ‘shadow academics’ are being recruited by Chinese universities. These decoupling responses and manipulative strategies result from the dominating constituent in WCUs, ambiguity in policy contents, hierarchical control systems in higher education, and uncertain environments for universities.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    According to the degree of economic and social development, the Chinese government divides the Chinese mainland into three regions: east, middle, and west. Eastern China has the best economic development, followed by the middle of China and western China. According to this, preferential policies for different economic zones are given.

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Acknowledgments

I would like to thank Prof.Simon Marginson and two anonymous reviewers for giving valuable comments and suggestions on this article.

Funding

This research was sponsored by the Shanghai Planning Office of Philosophy and Social Science (No. 2018EGL012).

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Correspondence to Jia Song.

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Song, J., Chu, Z. & Xu, Y. Policy decoupling in strategic response to the double world-class project: evidence from elite universities in China. High Educ (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-020-00642-y

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Keywords

  • World-class universities
  • Decoupling
  • Constituents
  • Control
  • Context