Skip to main content

The tensions of general education reform in China

Abstract

This qualitative inquiry examines the tensions that general education colleges face while initiating reform in China, how students characterize these tensions, and what conditions account for the tensions. The views of 18 college students were documented through individual semi-structured interviews to uncover the themes related to the tensions, and the transcripts of the interviews were analyzed using thematic coding. This study identifies multiple tensions that arise surrounding general education programs including the tension of the “tao of universities” versus the “use of universities,” “general-discipline fusion” versus “general-discipline separation,” and “core curriculum” versus “fragmented curriculum.” The study also discusses possible ways of easing and resolving these tensions so that services and programs can be enhanced.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

References

  • Adler-Kassner, L. (2014). Liberal learning, professional training, and disciplinarity in the age of educational “reform”: Remodeling general education. College English, 76(5), 436–457.

    Google Scholar 

  • Aloi, S. L., Gardner, W. S., & Lusher, A. L. (2003). A framework for assessing general education outcomes within the majors. The Journal of General Education, 52(4), 237–252.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Altbach, P. G. (2016). The many traditions of liberal arts—and their global relevance. International Higher Education, 84, 21–23.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Altman, M. C. (2010). Beyond the great books: Increasing the flexibility, scope, and appeal of an honors curriculum. Honors in Practice, 6, 125.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bogdan, R., & Taylor, S. J. (1975). Introduction to qualitative research methods: A phenomenological approach to the social science. Wiley.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bourke, B., Bray, N. J., & Horton, C. C. (2009). Approaches to the core curriculum: An exploratory analysis of top liberal arts and doctoral-granting institutions. The Journal of General Education, 58(4), 219–240.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Boyle, M. (2019). Global liberal education: Theorizing emergence and variability. Research in Comparative and International Education, 14(2), 231–248.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Cao, L. (2010). Reading “Liberal education” in the Chinese University. In B. de Bary (Ed.), Traces 5: Universities in translation: The mental labour of globalization (pp. 153–163). Hong Kong University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cao, L. (2016). The significance and practice of general education in China: The case of Tsinghua University. In W. Kirby & M. van der Wende (Eds.), Experiences in liberal arts and science education from America, Europe, and Asia (pp. 33–46). Palgrave Macmillan.

    Google Scholar 

  • Chen, M., & Pan, M. (2012). The practice and inspiration of general education in American Universities. Higher Education Exploration, (02), 52–56.

  • Cheng, B., & Zhang, D. (2020). Cultivating citizens with confusion cosmopolitanism: Defining the purpose of liberal arts education in the Asian context. Frontiers of Education in China, 15(4), 564–587.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Cheney, L. V. (1990). 50 hours: A core curriculum for college students. Humanities, 10, 4–10.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cheung, B. L. A. (2012). Higher education in Asia: Challenges from the contributions to globalization. International Journal of Chinese Education, 1(2), 177–195. https://doi.org/10.1163/22125868-12340003

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gaff, J. G., & Wasescha, A. (2001). Assessing the reform of general education. The Journal of General Education, 50(4), 235–252.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gan, Y. (2006). Two central links of general education in universities. Dushu, (4), 3–12.

  • Gao, S., & Xu, B. (2019). A critical analysis of belief education in Chinese higher education. In Higher education and belief systems in the Asia Pacific Region (pp. 73–83). Singapore: Springer.

  • Glaser, B. G., & Strauss, A. L. (1967). The discovery of grounded theory: Strategies for qualitative research. University of California Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Godwin, K. A., & Pickus, N. (2017). Liberal arts & sciences innovation in China: Six recommendations to shape the future. CIHE Perspectives, 8, 5–20.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hall, J. W., & Kevles, B. L. (1982). In opposition to core curriculum. Alternative models for undergraduate education. Contributions to the study of education, Number 4. Greenwood Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hayhoe, R. (2007). Wang Yongquan-higher education thinker and leader. In Portraits of Influential Chinese Educators (pp. 226–260). Dordrecht: Springer.

  • Hu, X., & Cao, L. (2012). Meaning and methods: Some thoughts on the role of general education and curriculum design. In General education and the development of global citizenship in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Mainland China (pp. 77–96). Routledge.

  • Jung, I. (2016). Introduction. In I. Jung, M. Nishirmura, & T. Sasao (Eds.), Liberal arts education and colleges in East Asia: Possibilities and challenges in the global age (pp. 1–12). Springer.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Kirby, W., & van der Wende, M. (2016). A global dialogue on liberal arts and science: Re-engagement, re-imagination and experimentation. In W. Kirby & M. van der Wende (Eds.), Experiences in liberal arts and science education from America, Europe, and Asia (pp. 1–15). Palgrave Macmillan.

    Google Scholar 

  • Liu, H. (2017a). The status, problems and strategy of academy system reform in modern Universities. China Higher Education Research, 11, 43–48.

    Google Scholar 

  • Liu, Y. (2017b). Free choice and institutionalized selection: elite cultivation in mass higher education—A case study base on Peking University. Peking University Education Review, 15(4), 38–74.

    Google Scholar 

  • MacDonald, W. B. (2008). Trends in general education and core curriculum: A survey. Retrieved January, 9, 2008.

  • Meng, W., & Huang, W. (2013). Institutional Barriers and Solutions in the implementation of general education in Chinese Universities. Tsinghua Journal of Education, 34(4), 46–50.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ministry of Education. (1999) Decision of the central committee of the communist party of China and the State Council on deepening education reform and comprehensively promoting quality education. Retrieved February 18, 2020 from http://old.moe.gov.cn/publicfiles/business/htmlfiles/moe/moe_177/200407/2478.html?authkey=eotbe3

  • MIT Course Catalog. (2018). General Institute Requirements. Retrieved February 18, 2020 from http://catalog.mit.edu/mit/undergraduate-education/general-institute-requirements/

  • Mitchell, K., & Seiler, C. (2015). Importing the American liberal arts college? In The best kind of college: An insiders' guide to America's small liberal arts colleges (pp. 259–294). SUNY Press.

  • Mok, K. H. (2016). The quest for world-class university status: implications for sustainable development of Asian universities. Londres: Centre for Global Higher Education working paper series.

  • Newton, R. R. (2000). Tensions and models in general education planning. The Journal of General Education, 49(3), 165–181.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Peterson, P. (2011). Liberal education in the global perspective. International Higher Education, (62), 10–11.

  • Postiglione, G. A. (2016). China’s search for its liberal arts and sciences model. In W. Kirby & M. van der Wende (Eds.), Experiences in liberal arts and science education from America, Europe, and Asia (pp. 17–31). Palgrave Macmillan.

    Google Scholar 

  • Qian, Y. (2012). On the reform of undergraduate education. Educator, (03), 4–9.

  • The Committee on General Education. (2006). History and future of harvard’s general education: Report of the committee on general education. In Curricular renewal in harvard college (pp. 73–96).

  • Vander Schee, B. A. (2011). Changing general education perceptions through perspectives and the interdisciplinary first-year seminar. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 23(3), 382–387.

    Google Scholar 

  • Warner, D. B., & Koeppel, K. (2009). General education requirements: A comparative analysis. The Journal of General Education, 58(4), 241–258.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Van der Wende, M. (2017). The emergence of liberal arts and sciences education in Europe: A comparative perspective. The evolution of liberal arts in the global age (pp. 106–126). Routledge.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Whitehead, A. N. (1967). Aims of education. Simon and Schuster.

    Google Scholar 

  • Xin, C. (2004). Social Changes and the revival of liberal education in China since the 1990s. Asia Education Pacific Review, 5(1), 1–13.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Xing, J., & Ng, P. (2012). General education and global citizenship: A comparative study in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Mainland China. General education and the development of global citizenship in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Mainland China (pp. 1–14). Routledge.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Yee, L. M. (2012). From liberal education to general education: Change and continuity in the philosophy of university education. General education and the development of global citizenship in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Mainland China (pp. 62–74). Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Yin, R. K. (2009). Case study research: Design and methods. SAGE.

  • Zha, Q. (2017). What is liberal arts education in the 21st century? An exploration starts with Chinese universities and goes beyond China. In K. A. Godwin & N. Pickus (Eds.), Liberal arts and sciences innovation in China: Six recommendations to shape the future (pp. 40–48). Boston College Center for International Higher Education.

    Google Scholar 

  • Zha, Q. (2021). How should liberal arts education evolve in the twenty first century? An exploration of universities in China and beyond. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 1–15.

  • Zha, Q., & Hayhoe, R. (2014). The “Beijing Consensus” and the Chinese model of university autonomy. Frontiers of Education in China, 9(1), 42–62.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Zhang, D. (2012). Tongshi education reform in a Chinese university: Knowledge, values, and organizational changes. Comparative Education Review, 56(3), 394–420.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Zhang, H. (2010). A tentative analysis of the longitudinal structural characteristics of undergraduate courses in first-class American universities. Higher Education of Sciences, 2010(5), 67–72.

    Google Scholar 

  • Zhu, Q., & Jesiek, B. K. (2014). In pursuit of the Dao in policymaking: Toward a cultural approach to understanding engineering education policy in China. Technology in Society, 38, 169–176.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Zhu, Q., & Jesiek, B. K. (2015). Confucianism, marxism, and pragmatism: The intellectual contexts of engineering education in China. In International perspectives on engineering education (pp. 151–170). Cham: Springer.

  • Zhu, M. Q., & Pang, H. (2016) Toward a cross-cultural conversation: Liberal arts education for engineers in China and the US. ASEE’s 123rd Conference & Exposition. New Orleans, LA.

Download references

Funding

This study was supported by Tsinghua Univeristy Inititive Scientific Research Program (Grant No. 2021THZWYY01).

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Kun Yan.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Yan, K., Zhang, Y. The tensions of general education reform in China. Asia Pacific Educ. Rev. (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12564-022-09767-4

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Revised:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s12564-022-09767-4

Keywords

  • General education reform
  • Tensions
  • China