Encyclopedia of Educational Philosophy and Theory

Living Edition
| Editors: Michael A. Peters

Governance and Management in Chinese Higher Education Institutions

  • Liu BaocunEmail author
  • Wang Xueshuang
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-287-532-7_601-1


The governance and management of higher education institutions in China is stipulated by different laws and regulations of the country. The State Council and the local people’s governments at various levels are responsible for guiding and administering educational work under the principles of administration by different levels and of a division of responsibilities. Secondary education and education at lower levels are administered by the local people’s governments under the guidance of the State Council, while higher education is administered by the State Council and/or the people’s governments of provinces, autonomous regions, or municipalities directly under the central government. Such a governance and management system in Chinese higher education is not only related to the history of the centralized culture and administrative and management system of the country but also affected by the current administrative and management system in China (Mok and Han 2017; Mok 2002; Law 1995).

Background of Governance and Management of Higher Education

Culture of Centralized Governance and Management

China is a country with 5000-year civilization. As early as 2070 BC, there appeared the Xia Dynasty (twenty-first century BC to sixteenth century BC), the first state power in ancient China. It established a set of offices, arm forces, prisons, and criminal laws. Though China as a nation began to take shape, its political system retained many characteristics of the clan society. The Shang Dynasty (1600 BC–1046 BC) is the second dynasty in the history of China. The Shang Dynasty was a league of tribes centered on the Shang tribe, but the king of the Shang tribe had only limited control over the alliance tribes. The Zhou Dynasty (1046 BC–256 BC) is the third and last hereditary slavery dynasty after the Shang Dynasty in Chinese history. The Zhou Dynasty, under the condition of a powerful Zhou royal family, established many vassal states that are obliged to recognize the authority of King of Zhou and assume various obligations. The relationship between the central government and the vassal states was closer than that of the previous dynasties. After hundreds of years’ wars among the vassal states, Ying Zheng, the king of the Qin kingdom finally unified China in 221 BC and established the Qin Dynasty and a centralized system of governance with unified governments from central government to local governments, sticking to the unification of the country. The centralized system had been strengthened and improved since the Qin Dynasty, and such a system has been lasting for more than 2000 years. In China, the culture of centralized governance and management has a strong impact not only in China’s political system but also in every aspect of governance and management of the country, including the governance and management of education.

The Structure of Political System

The political system of People’s Republic of China was established in October 1949 in the mainland, including series of legal system, laws, and practices related to the essential issues as state political power, system of government, and the relationship between state and society. The most important leading organs of the political system, namely, the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, the State Council, and the National People’s Congress (NPC), constitute the decision-making system of the political system at the national level, thus having a strong impact on the governance and management of the higher education institutions.

The CPC Central Committee is the top organization of leadership of the Communist Party of China elected by the National Congress of the Party. Since CPC is the ruling party, the committee is responsible for the fundamental policies of the whole country. The fundamental policies made by the CPC Central Committee become the national will through the NPC and its standing committee and are implemented by the State Council. The most fundamental educational reform and development policies are made in the name of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, while other educational reforms and development policies are made according to the procedures and guiding ideology of the Central Committee.

The State Council, the central government, is the top administrative organization. It is also the highest-level organization for implementing the policies and decisions made by the National People’s Congress. The State Council is in charge of formulating the constitution, laws, and administrative regulations, leading the work of the ministries and commissions, preparing the national budget and development plan, appointment and removal, training, evaluation, and reward and punishment of the administrative staffs by law. Some most profound educational reforms and development policies are made in the name of the State Council (sometimes together with the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China), while other educational reforms and development policies are made by the Ministry of Education, one of the ministries of the State Council.

The National People’s Congress is the top organization of the state power and has national legislative power. The main responsibility of NPC includes enacting and amending the constitution and fundamental laws; election of president and other high officials; reviewing and approving of the national development plan and their implementation report; and reviewing and approving the national budget and their implementation report. Education laws and important educational reform and development policies are usually passed by NPC.

At the provincial level, prefecture level, county level, as well as town and township level, the leading organizations play similar roles at different levels.

Governance and Management of Higher Education System

Although China has a long history of higher learning and its classical universities can be traced back to the higher education institution set up by Confucius more than 2000 years ago, China established its modern higher education system based on the Western idea and model of the university in the late 1890s (Zhu and Lou 2011; Hayhoe 1996). For the first decades before 1949, compared with the traditional culture of centralization, the higher education governance system was relatively decentralized. Though the central government constituted national laws, policies, and regulations, the local government played more important roles in higher education governance. After the People’s Republic of China was established in 1949, the models of higher education administration in China vacillated between centralization and decentralization, concerning the role and authority of the central and local governments and their relationships (Du 2014; Chen 1981).

The current higher education administrative system is featured by unified leadership of the central government and the hierarchical administration by the central and provincial governments. The system operates at two levels, in three sequences, and by one executive body (Long and Huang 2011).

The two levels refer to the central government and the provincial government levels. At the first level, the State Council and the Ministry of Education are responsible for the central administration and comprehensive guidance of the provincial governments and relevant central ministries and commissions with regard to the national principle of education and related policies, funding, and planning. At the second level, a provincial government and its departments or commissions of education are responsible for the direct administration of higher education institutions affiliated to them.

The three sequences refer to different governance of higher education institutions according to their affiliations. The first sequence is the State Council, the provincial governments, and public and private institutions under the administration of the local governments. The second sequence is the State Council, the Ministry of Education, and public institutions affiliated to the Ministry of Education. The third sequence is the State Council, central ministries and commissions, and public institutions affiliated to them.

One executive body refers to the Ministry of Education. The Ministry of Education is the State Council’s executive body in charge of the national work on education. It is responsible for the planning of national higher education development; establishment of new institutions; relevant policies, and regulations; evaluation of quality of teaching; and issues concerning teachers and students. Provincial governments run their own departments or commissions of education to lead the development of the local higher education institutions under the guidance of the Ministry of Education. The other ministries and commissions of the State Council provide administration and coordination over higher education institutions affiliated to them with the guidance of the Ministry of Education.

The Ministry of Education and the provincial government department or commission of education are assigned different functions in higher education administration. The functions of the Ministry of Education include policy-making and planning of higher education reform and development; planning and coordination of higher education management; developing the standards of setting up higher education institutions; developing discipline and major catalogue and relevant teaching regulations; approval of establishment, name change, closure, and adjustment of higher education institutions; evaluation of higher education; management of overall outlay of higher education; policy-making on management of faculty and staff; admission of students and employment of graduates; planning of research; policy-making on international cooperation and exchange; and degree policy and reorganization of diploma and degrees. The functions of the provincial government departments or commissions of education include to guide and supervise the local colleges and universities; to implement national policies, laws, and regulations; to forecast local talents’ demand and develop local development plan; to develop the budget allocation and account audit; and to promote domestic and international cooperation (Hu 2005).

Governance and Management of Higher Education Institutions

Leadership System of Higher Education Institutions

Leadership system of higher education institution defines the relationships among various leading forces in the institution. The most important leading forces in the higher education institutions in China are political force represented by the CPC institution committee and administrative force represented by the president. Under the influence of political and economic development, the leading system changed frequently, adjusting the relationship between the political force and the administrative force. The leadership system of higher education institutions in different periods of the People’s Republic of China was not consistent, and the current leadership system is the president responsibility system under the leadership of CPC institution committee. The Higher Education Act (1998) defines the leadership system as that in higher education institutions run by the state, the president takes overall responsibility under the leadership of CPC institution committee in higher education institutions. The leading role of CPC institution committee is the key feature of the decision-making system of higher education institutions in China. It is different from either the decision-making system dominated by the administrative forces or the decision-making system dominated by the academic forces (Cheng and Wang 2008).

The features of the current leadership system of higher education institutions are as follows:

First, the CPC institution committee plays a collective leadership role. The committee consists of a group of leaders, such as CPC institution committee secretary, CPC institution committee vice secretaries, president, vice presidents, and directors of other important university offices. The CPC institution committee secretary usually plays a coordinating role in the committee. The CPC institution committee mainly perform the following duties: to adhere to the lines, principles, and policies of the CPC; to keep to the socialist goal in running the institution; to provide guidance to ideological and political work and moral education; to discuss and decide on the internal structure and appointment of internal organizational directors, as well as important issues like reform and development and basic management system; and to ensure the fulfillment of all the tasks concerning the education of students (Han and Hang 2010).

Second, the president is the legal representative of the higher education institution. He/she undertakes overall responsibilities for the teaching, research, service, and administrative affairs. The president perform the following duties: to draw up development plans, formulate specific rules and regulations and annual work plans, and arrange for their implementations; to arrange for teaching, research, service, and ideological and moral education; to draw up plans for internal structure, nominate candidates for vice presidents, and appoint or remove directors of the departments of the institution; to appoint and dismiss teachers and other staff members, administer the academic affairs of students, and give reward or punishment to students; to draw up and implement the annual fiscal budget, protect and manage the property of the institution, and protect the lawful rights and interests of the institution; and to fulfill other duties provided for in the regulations of the institution.

Third, the academic committee and teaching and administrative staff congress are responsible for democratic management and supervision. The academic committee is set up as a consultative organization to be responsible for academic affairs such as the disciplines and majors to be offered, educational and research plans, and evaluating teaching and research outcomes. The teaching and administrative staff congress is set up to guarantee that teachers and staff members are involved in the democratic management and supervision of the institution and safeguard their lawful rights and interests (Li et al. 2012).

The Organizations and Structure of Higher Education Institutions

Because of the centralized governance system, the Chinese higher education institutions have similar internal administrative organizations and structure, which have some correspondence with administrative organizations and structure in the central and local governments, especially the public institutions. Since the higher education institutions are different in category, size, mission, and disciplines, there are some slight differences in internal administrative organizations and structure. Usually the big size comprehensive research universities have a more complicated structure and more administrative organizations than the small liberal arts colleges or vocational and technical institutions (Zhang 2010).

With the above leadership system, a typical higher education institution has one CPC institution committee secretary, three to five vice CPC institution committee secretaries, one president, and three to five vice presidents, which constitute a university level team of collective leadership. The secretaries and presidents are the main members of the Institution Affair Committee, which is quite similar to the governing board in other countries. The secretaries and presidents have work distribution among them and are responsible for different functions, mission, and disciplines.

The operation of higher education institutions is based on two kinds of interconnected organizations to implement the management: functional organizations and academic organizations.

The Functional Organizations

The functional organizations are divided into two systems: the system of the party and the masses, and the administrative system.

At the university level, the functional organizations are divided into two systems: the system of the party and the masses and the administrative system. The system of the party and the masses usually include the CPC Institution Committee Office, Organization Office, Publicity Office, Office of United Front, Security and Safeguard Office, Office of Student Affairs, Office of Graduate Student Affairs, Communist Youth League Committee, and Labor Union. The administrative system includes the Office of the President, Personnel Office, Office of International Affairs, Office of Academic Affairs, Office of Finance, Office of Logistics, Office of Development and Planning, Graduate School, etc. They are assigned different functions of management and are responsible for concrete work of management at university level according to work distribution.

At the school level, the functional organizations are also divided into two systems: the system of the party and the masses and the administrative system, usually in a much simpler way. These organizations usually include Office of the Party Affairs, Communist Youth League Committee, Labor Union, Office of the Dean, Personnel Office, Office of International Affairs, Office of Academic Affairs, etc. They are responsible for relevant management work at school level.

At the department level, the functional organizations include only part-time positions such as department head, party branch secretary, and a secretary for teaching and a secretary for research. They are responsible for relevant management work at department level.

The Academic Organizations

The academic organizations mainly include three different kinds of organizations: academic committees, academic degree evaluation committees, and teaching and research organizations.

The academic committees exist at university level, school level, and sometimes department level. They are usually composed of professors and associate professors from different disciplines or majors and are responsible for discussion and policy-making or consultation on academic issues as planning for the construction of disciplines, majors and teachers, scientific research, and foreign academic exchanges and cooperation; the establishment scheme of academic institutions; the standards and rules for the granting of degrees; the training standards for degree programs and planning of teaching plan; the standards and methods of recruiting students; the evaluation criteria and methods of teaching and research achievements; academic standards and methods for the recruitment of teachers; and academic evaluation, rules for dealing with disputes, and academic ethics.

The academic degree evaluation committees exist at both university level and school level. They usually compose of professors and associate professors from different disciplines or majors who are responsible for reviewing the list of applicants for bachelor’s and master’s degree and making a decision to grant a bachelor’s and master’s degree; reviewing applications for doctoral degree and making a decision to grant a doctoral degree; reviewing and approval of revoking a bachelor’s, a master’s, and a doctorate degree; reviewing and approval of the list of persons who have passed the honorary doctorate degree; reviewing and approval of the list of qualified academic staff members for supervising master and doctoral students; reviewing and approval of suspension of the admission or revocation of the qualifications of the master and doctoral supervisors; reviewing and approval of the establishment and adjustment of a master’s and doctoral degree programs within the scope of the state’s authorization; reviewing and approval of the relevant regulations and measures of degree granting, the discipline adjustment of the degree authorization, and the construction of the supervisor team; inspection, supervision, and evaluation of the quality of the degree granted by the whole institutions; and dealing with the objections in the above items.

The names of teaching and research organizations are quite different among the higher education institutions. For most of the higher education institutions, no matter their names are “university,” “college,” or “institute,” they set up different “schools” and “colleges,” as well as “departments” under the “schools” and “colleges” as teaching and research organizations. For some small higher education institutions, they only set up different “departments,” The teaching and research organizations are responsible for teaching, research, and service in different fields. Besides the above teaching and research organizations, the higher education institutions also set up special research institutes under the university or the schools or colleges, focusing on research in different fields or disciplines.

Problems and Reforms of Governance and Management of Higher Education

Challenges to and Problems of Governance and Management of Higher Education

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the world is undergoing great development, profound changes, and major adjustments. World multi-polarization is witnessing in-depth development, and the international competition has been strengthened. The globalization of economy, development of knowledge economy, dramatic changes in science and technology, and competition for talents or professionals are intensifying with each passing day. Higher education has been given unprecedented importance, and the demands for higher education have also been raised to a new standard (Zhou 2009).

When we focus on China, the country is currently at a key stage for reform and development. In the past decades, all-round progress has been made in economic, political, cultural, and social development as well as in promoting ecological civilization. As industrialization, informatization, urbanization, marketization, and internationalization develop dramatically, China is exposed to increasing pressure by its huge population, limited natural resources, the environment, and its transformation of economic growth pattern. Therefore, China is in urgent need to cultivate innovative talents and improve the quality of higher education. Compared to the expectation of the people and demand of national development, it is clearly recognized that China’s higher education cannot fully meet the needs of the economic and social development and people’s educational requirements, and there is still a significant gap compared with higher education in the developed countries. Though there are many problems to be solved, the problems in the governance system of higher education are one of the cruxes of the matter. The most frequently listed problem in higher education governance lies in the fact that the functions of central and local authorities are not clearly defined, and the central government has too much power, while the autonomy of the local government is insufficient. Lack of autonomy of higher education institutions and unclear boundary among political power, administrative power, and academic power are also often criticized. There are also other criticisms on higher education governance, including strong bureaucratization and weak involvement of teachers and students.

Reforms of Governance and Management of Higher Education

In July 2010, the Chinese central government released the Outline of China’s National Plan for Medium and Long-term Education Reform and Development (2010–2020), which marks the beginning of the comprehensive reform of education in China. Since then, the central government also issued several other documents of education reform like the National Plan for Higher Education Reform and Development in 2012, the Decision on the Major Issues of Deepening Comprehensive Reforms in 2013, and the Opinion on Deepening the Reform of the System and Mechanism of Education in 2017. In the field of higher education governance, the government called for reforms to promote the educational governance system and modernization of educational governance capability to cope with the challenges and overcome the problems of higher education. The new higher educational governance system emphasizes empowerment, university autonomy, shared governance, and social participation in policy-making. From these policies, we can see the reform trend of governance of higher education in China (Li and Yang 2014).

The policy trends show that the responsibilities of governments at all levels shall be well defined to further strengthen the responsibility of the provincial education departments to coordinate the higher education in the region in order to establish the system of provincial government-based management of higher education. The autonomy of higher education institutions shall be implemented and expanded based on the Higher Education Act. The governance structure shall be improved by adhering to and improving the president responsibility system under the leadership of the CPC institution committee, giving full play to the important role of the academic committee, the teaching and administrative staff congress, and the student congress. It is strongly suggested to establish a new mechanism to promote the close relationship between higher education institutions and society. Strategic alliances among universities, research institutes, and enterprises are encouraged, and resource sharing mechanism shall be explored to strengthen their cooperation in education, scientific research, and development (Peng and Wu 2003).


China has a huge higher education system consisting of 2880 higher education institutions in 2016. Among the 2880 higher education institutions, there are 2139 public higher education institutions and 742 private higher education institutions (including 266 independent colleges, which were founded by public universities with funding from nongovernmental sectors). Compared with public higher education institutions, private higher education institutions have a short history and less influence. The governance and management of private higher education institutions are quite similar to that of public higher education institutions. The main difference lies in the fact that in the board of trustees the president is more powerful than political power (Dong et al. 2013).

The centralized governance and management system of higher education institutions in China is deeply affected by its long history of centralized culture and current administrative and management system of state political power. From the 1980s, the governance and management of higher education institutions has been undergoing reforms and changes, and is expected to undergo more reforms and changes in the next decades in accordance with the ambitious comprehensive economic and social reform in the country (Ji 2013). A steady and prudent path rather than radical change is expected to improve the governance and management system of higher education institutions.


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© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Beijing Normal UniversityBeijingChina
  2. 2.Beijing Sport UniversityBeijingChina

Section editors and affiliations

  • Yan Fengqiao
    • 1
  • Yuzhuo Cai
    • 2
  1. 1.Peking UniversityBeijingChina
  2. 2.Higher Education Group, Faculty of ManagementUniversity of TampereTampereFinland