Ethnic Diversity in Higher Education

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7 Ethnic Diversity in Higher Education




China is a unified country of fifty-six ethnic peoples. By habit, the Chinese call the ethnic peoples other than the Hans “minorities.” According to 2002 statistics, there were a total of 106 million minority people in all the provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities of the mainland, accounting for 8.41% of the total population. The minority groups differ greatly in population size: eighteen have a population of more than one million each, twenty-two have fewer than 100,000, and seven have more than 10,000. The Zhuangs are the largest minority group with a population of more than 15 million, and the Lobas inhabiting south Tibet are the smallest with fewer than 10,000. Despite their small percentage in the country's total population, the minorities are widely dispersed geographically. Properly handling ethnic relationships, especially those between the Hans and the minorities, speeding up development in minority-inhabited areas, and bridging the economic, cultural, and educational gap between these regions and the rest of the country, are of immense importance for promoting a society of common prosperity and long-term peace and stability. They are therefore the starting points for the government's ethnic and diversity policy. In handling ethnic relations, the government always emphasizes that the Hans cannot do without their minority brothers and vice versa, and that the minorities cannot do without each other. This is another starting point for the formulation of policies related to the minorities.


For historical and geographical reasons, in the old days, the regions where minorities lived in compact communities were handicapped by low productivity. With a subsistence economy holding sway, most people there eked out a living as farmers and herdsmen. There was also a glaring disparity between the minorities in the level of economic, cultural, and educational development.

After the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, the government was faced with the formidable task of helping the nation's minority population beat poverty and accelerate socioeconomic development. While formulating a series of policies in favor of minorities, it also put developing education and hastening cultural and scientific progress among minority peoples high on the agenda.

As part of that endeavor, the government took it upon itself to develop higher education for minorities and cultivate government functionaries and high-level professionals among them. After more than five decades of concerted effort by the people of all ethnic backgrounds in general, and educators in particular, minority higher education has been an unprecedented success. As a major integral part of the national higher education system, minority higher education today plays an indispensable role in gradually reducing the developmental gap between minority-inhabited areas and the rest of the country, and in speeding up cultivation of competent administrators and professionals of minority backgrounds.

The founding of New China in 1949 delivered minorities from millennia of ethnic oppression and humiliation, and their higher education drew more attention than ever before. Governments at all levels have administrative departments to handle and coordinate minority education affairs. The Ministry of Education has a minority education department. The governments of regions under minority autonomy and provinces with large minority populations have departments staffed mostly with members of minority descent to take care of higher education for minority people. To cultivate minority civil servants, better handle minority affairs, and solve the problems of minority people, the central government issued the Provisional Program for Cultivating Ethnic Minority Civil Servants and the Provisional Program for Establishing the Central Institute for Nationalities (the predecessor of the Central University for Nationalities) in November 1950. In the Decisions on Reforming the Higher Education Schooling System published in October 1951, the central authorities demanded that universities set up preparatory or remedial courses to enroll students from among minority people.

Since the 1950s, China has set up thirteen colleges for minority students. They are the Central University for Nationalities, the Southwest University for Nationalities, the Northwest University for Nationalities, the South-Central University for Nationalities, the Yunnan University for Nationalities, the Guizhou Institute for Nationalities, the Guangxi Institute for Nationalities, the Dalian Institute for Nationalities, the Second Northwest Institute for Nationalities, the Hubei Institute for Nationalities, the Tibet Institute for Nationalities, the Qinghai Institute for Nationalities, and the Guangdong Vocational and Technical College (whose predecessor was the Guangdong Institute for Nationalities). The presidencies for these institutions are usually filled by people of minority descent, and quite a few minority professors and scholars work there as administrators, teachers, and researchers. With key government support in strengthening the faculty and improving teaching and schooling conditions, these institutions contribute immensely to hastening minority higher education and narrowing the gap in education development between minority-inhabited areas and the average national level.

In June 1980, the Ministry of Education issued the Circular on Running Classes for Ethnic Minority Students on a Trial Basis in Key Universities. The universities chosen for this task acted on the Circular right away and set up such classes according to the government plan. Before long, many universities affiliated to central and local governments joined in the action. In March 1984, the Ministry of Education issued the Proposals on Tightening up Leadership and Further Improving Ethnic Minority Students' Classes in Universities, which demanded that these classes be run at preparatory, junior college, and undergraduate levels.

In 2000, the central government came up with a new guiding principle for the development and operation of institutes for nationalities and university-run regular and preparatory classes for minority students. It demanded that the government's education principle and ethnic policies should be carried out to the letter in developing minority higher education in the new century, and that full play be given to the role of education in developing the western regions in a big way, boosting socio-economic progress in minority-inhabited areas, enhancing national unity, and safeguarding national unification. The government also insisted that education should serve the nation, minorities, and minority-inhabited areas; that with vigorous government support and unstinting help from developed regions and universities concerned, minority-inhabited areas should develop higher education, mainly through self-reliance; that the scale and structure of minority higher education should conform with its quality and practical results; and that education should be innovated and reform should drive efforts to revamp training and governance in institutes for nationalities and increase their comprehensive strength and competitiveness.

The guideline for institutes for nationalities during the new century is that, of all the students enrolled from minority-inhabited areas, the percentage of (1) civil servants in minority-inhabited areas for on-the-job training, (2) minority students taking teacher's training courses, and (3) Han students in minority-inhabited areas must be gradually increased. The government also advocates that no time should be lost in establishing mechanisms that allow institutes of nationalities to run schools with distinct characteristics, quality teaching, and successful cooperation with other universities. It calls for gradually revamping the investment systems to pool resources from various quarters and increase investment; restructuring in active and prudent ways these institutes' internal administrative systems to motivate the faculty and liven up campus atmosphere; strengthening the ranks of teachers and, with emphasis on reform of undergraduate teaching, striving to increase these institutes' competence level in teaching and research, and enhance their versatility and competitiveness. Moreover, the government also encourages parents in minority-inhabited areas to send their children to schools in central and eastern regions.


The government has adopted a series of steps to bring about common prosperity and development among ethnic groups and to reduce the gap between minority-inhabited areas and other parts of the country in socio-economic development.

Opening regular and preparatory classes for minority students in hinterland universities and granting preferential policies for this purpose

In June 1980 some key universities began admitting minority students for undergraduate and junior college studies in a planned way on condition that upon graduation they return to where they come from.

In July 2002, the State Council issued the Decisions on Deepening Reform and Accelerating Development of Education for Minority Groups, and made it clear that government support would be increased for this purpose. The document laid down policies concerning enrollment for minority classes at regular and preparatory levels in universities. For example, enrollment quotas shall be state-mandated and students shall know that they will be trained exclusively for minority-inhabited areas; these minority classes shall enroll minority students who must pass national college entrance examinations; the admission threshold for a university's minority classes at regular college, junior college, and preparatory levels shall be lowered by no more than forty, eighty and sixty points, respectively, below that university's standard matriculation cut-off lines for a particular region; those enrolled in preparatory classes shall spend one or two years in a designated preparatory school and pass all the examinations before they can start college for undergraduate studies.

Minority students studying in minority classes at undergraduate and preparatory levels will receive character education designed to foster their creative, practical, and career-launching abilities, and turn them into professionals well-versed in both the arts and sciences. In the meantime, they will also learn ethnic and religious theories and state ethnic policies; they will also learn to foster a sense of ethnic

unity and national unification, and be well prepared for the development of the country's border regions.

Thanks to government support and the common efforts of schools, teachers, and students, the minority classes run in hinterland universities have made impressive progress. By 2003, more than 14,000 students had been enrolled annually in such classes run by more than 100 universities affiliated with seventeen provinces and autonomous regions and six State Council ministries and commissions. The minority preparatory classes had become steady sources for the supply of qualified minority students for these universities. The minority undergraduate and preparatory classes had supplied minority-inhabited areas with some 130,000 outstanding graduates so that every ethnic group had college-educated members. Thanks to the education they received in hinterland universities, the minority graduates are well developed intellectually, professionally, and morally. They have stood the test of practical work and gradually emerged as a staunch force in various fields of endeavor. Some have become government leaders at various levels.

Training core professionals of a high order for minority peoples

To speed up cultivation of top-notch professionals among minority peoples and to improve the talent mix among them and in minority-inhabited areas, the central government announced the Program for Training Core Ethnic Minority Professionals to bring forth minority students with master's and doctoral degrees.

Experiments will be carried out in a few selected universities to gain the experience needed for the program to be carried out step by step in all the universities affiliated to the State Council ministries and commissions. According to this arrangement, a few central-affiliated universities will start enrolling minority students for master's and doctoral degree courses in 2005, and then more and more such universities will join in the program, so that in several years' time it is expected that the annual enrollment will reach 6,000—1,000 candidates for doctoral degrees and 5,000 candidates for master's degrees, and the total student body under this program will reach 18,000.

This program will enroll students from Tibet, Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, Ningxia, Guangxi, Chongqing, Sichuan, Guizhou, Yunnan, Gansu, and Qinghai, and from areas under minority autonomy and where minorities live in scattered or mixed communities that enjoy the same preferential state policies as the eleven western provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities. Those attending Tibetan or Xinjiang classes in hinterland universities will also be included. The students will take unified entrance examinations, but the enrollment cut-off points will be properly lowered. The idea is to “enroll students from designated regions and areas for designated training programs and prepare them for jobs in designated places and fields.” The students will be predominantly ethnic minority, but there will also be a certain percentage of Han students selected from among those living or working for a long time in minority-inhabited areas and from among those attending Tibetan or Xinjiang classes in hinterland universities. The enrollees will sign an agreement that upon graduation they will take up jobs in designated areas and organizations—those who have earned a master's degree will have to hold such jobs for at least five years, and those with a doctoral degree for at least eight years. The enrollment quotas under this program

are separately distributed and controlled within the framework of a national graduate student enrollment plan.

Some hinterland universities will also be selected to offer crack graduate courses to minority students by cutting down the admission threshold. In a year's time, these courses will help the students obtain a rudimentary knowledge of English, Chinese, and other fields of learning, but stress will be on learning concepts of ethnic diversity, religion, and related government policies.

Putting more students from minority-inhabited areas through college

When making university enrollment plans, the government makes a point of assigning as many enrollment quotas as possible to western provinces and autonomous regions where the minority population is relatively more concentrated than elsewhere. The idea is to keep the university enrollment rate in these regions above the average national level. The result is that these regions have registered considerable growth in university enrollment rates. In 2000, for example, Xinjiang led the nation with a 74.2% enrollment rate, and Tibet ranked third at 72.7%. Aside from properly lowering the matriculation cut-off standards, the government has also worked out other policies in favor of minority students. For instance, if several students have scored the same points in university entrance examinations, the minority student will be the first to be enrolled. Most provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities have cut university enrollment standards for minority students by ten to twenty-five points. In Tibet and Xinjiang, minority students are enrolled in universities according to special standards, and secondary schools and universities in the hinterland run classes for students from both regions. The South-Central University for Nationalities and the Dalian Institute for Nationalities have each opened a class for students from the nation's least populous minority groups, which has eased the difficulty these minorities face in putting their children through college. The government has also opened a teachers' training center in the Northwest Normal University to produce 300 teachers a year for minority-inhabited areas in northwest China.

To ensure and protect the rights of minority people to receive education in their mother tongue, universities in ethnic autonomous regions or areas that teach in native languages must use enrollment examination papers compiled by provincial university enrollment committees and organize their own entrance examinations. When taking university entrance examinations, minority senior secondary school graduates taught in their mother tongue may answer examination papers that have been translated into their mother tongue—the only exception is that they have to use Chinese to answer exam papers on Chinese.

Similar arrangements have also been made for the enrollment of minority students for graduate studies, such as independent enrollment procedures and preferential admission standards.

From 1989, the government has launched four programs for hinterland universities to help Xinjiang train minority talent. In the last fourteen years, these universities have enrolled 12,000 minority students from Xinjiang, 8,000 of them having already graduated. They have also trained 640 graduate students who have returned to Xinjiang upon graduation, 860 teachers and education administrators, and 1,400 economic administrators and business managers, and dispatched thirty visiting scholars of minority background to that region. At the Fifth Conference of Hinterland Universities in Support of Xinjiang held in October 2003 by the Ministry of Education, the State Ethnic Affairs Commission and the People's Government of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, it was decided that during 2004–2008 the universities affiliated to State Council ministries and commissions would admit 2,000 minority students from Xinjiang on an annual basis, so that in five years' time, a total of 10,000 students would be enrolled.

Helping universities in minority-inhabited areas step up curricular development and improve training of top-notch professionals

The government adopts a policy of “granting preferential treatment to minority-inhabited areas and ensuring education quality” to help institutes for nationalities and universities in minority-inhabited areas develop into multi-disciplinary and comprehensive universities. To help universities in minority-inhabited areas step up curricula development and improve education of top-notch professionals, the Academic Degree Committee of the State Council takes their characteristics into full consideration and gives them preferential treatment when designating fields of study and accrediting them for conferment of academic and professional degrees. During the Eighth National Conference on Conferment of Academic Degrees, the committee, out of the consideration that these universities were not in a position to compete with their counterparts in the eastern regions in this round of centralized accreditation work, empowered the academic degree committees of Xinjiang, Ningxia, Guangxi, Yunnan, Guizhou, and Qinghai, where minority autonomy is exercised or where minority populations are relatively more concentrated, to certify their own university faculties for granting master's degrees. In 2002, these regions had fifty-nine PhD-granting faculties and 640 MA-granting faculties, fifteen universities certified to confer doctoral degrees, and fifty-three universities and research institutes certified to confer master's degrees. During the Ninth National Round of Certification of Units for Conferment of Doctoral and Master's Degrees in 2003, the Northwest University for Nationalities and the Southwest University for Nationalities were certified to confer doctoral degrees and the Second Northwest Institute for Nationalities to confer master's degrees, while the South-Central Institute for Nationalities, the Northwest Institute for Nationalities, and the Southwest Institute for Nationalities were renamed universities for further development. The University of Inner Mongolia, Guangxi University, Yunnan University, Xinjiang University, and Yanbian University are under Project 211. Treasury bonds have been issued to raise funds in aid of the western regions' efforts to turn Xinjiang University, Guangxi University, Yunnan University, the University of Inner Mongolia, and Qinghai University into leading institutions of higher education. Moreover, minority medicine, including Tibetan and Mongolian medicine, has been added to the national catalog of academic programs to support development of traditional medical science among minority peoples.

The July 2002 Decisions of the State Council on Deepening Reform and Accelerating Development of Education for Minority Groups calls for better administration of universities in minority-inhabited areas and institutes for nationalities, and acceleration of geographical regrouping of universities, adjustment of curricular structures, and promotion of optimized allocation of educational resources in minority-inhabited areas. The document also calls for creating conditions to steadily expand university enrollment and ensure teaching quality; reforming the personnel system; outsourcing logistics services; speeding up integration of industry, scholarship, and research in universities; raising their research and development abilities; and speeding up the transfer of research results into actual productivity so that they can contribute to the great initiative to develop western regions and other minority-inhabited areas. The document furnishes preferential policies for developing degree programs and expanding enrollment in universities in minority-inhabited areas and institutes for nationalities. It also calls for effective steps to promote cooperation between the State Ethnic Affairs Commission, the Ministry of Education, and the Municipality of Beijing in the joint construction of the Central University for Nationalities; between the State Ethnic Affairs Commission and the city of Wuhan in joint construction of the South-Central University for Nationalities; and between the State Ethnic Affairs Commission and the Chinese Academy of Sciences in joint construction of six institutes for nationalities. In sending students to study abroad, the state also gives favorable considerations to western regions and minority-inhabited areas. These measures have effectively boosted higher education for and among minority peoples.

Supporting higher education in minority-inhabited areas and western regions

To put the modernization drive on course for stable, balanced, and rapid development, and to achieve common prosperity among people of all ethnic backgrounds, the government has launched the strategy to develop in a big way the western regions where most of the minorities live in compact communities. The key to the success of this strategy lies in competent people; therefore, priority should be placed on education. In response to this major government policy decision, the Ministry of Education issued the Circular on Assisting Schools of Higher Learning in Western Regions on a One-on-One Basis on June 13, 2001, designating Peking University, Tsinghua University, and twelve other universities to pair off with Shihezi University in Xinjiang, Qinghai University, and twelve other counterparts in one-on-one assistance partnerships. In April 2002, the ministry issued the Circular on Supporting Post-Secondary Normal Schools in Xinjiang on a One-on-One Basis, adding three pairs of universities to the effort (Figure 7.3).

The support program, whereby an accomplished university helps one or several of its counterparts, is managed under a responsibility system to ensure that all the prescribed goals are achieved. The emphasis is on developing new fields of study, strengthening the faculty, tightening up school administration, and streamlining daily operation in recipient universities. Teaching equipment is donated to improve their teaching and learning conditions. The western universities are also helped in a variety of ways to improve teaching, research, and administration and to build a solid groundwork for long-term development. A supporting university is obliged to offer preferential accommodation to visiting scholars, teachers, and graduate students from a recipient university for training, provide

training in the teaching of Chinese and for Chinese teachers, dispatch educational administrators and deans to provide short-term consultancy on developing academic programs, and cooperate with the recipient university in research on issues pivotal to local economic and social development.

Through mutual consultation and understanding, agreements are to be signed on exchanges of university leaders and administrators, joint training of undergraduates and graduate students, joint research projects and exchanges between the paired universities, and for the supporting university to dispatch good teachers, provide necessary funds and teaching equipment, donate books, provide information access to the recipient university, and help train its teachers. These agreements are milestones in this unique one-on-one assistant program. The government also works to raise the money needed for this program. In November 2001, the Li Ka Shing Foundation donated 5 million yuan in aid of teachers to be dispatched to teach key courses in the program's fourteen key western universities, and by July 2003, a total of 157 teachers had been dispatched.

The one-on-one program has paid off. It has raised the quality of teaching at the universities supported, strengthened their faculties, and trained a team of core teachers for them. What has happened in Qinghai University with the help of Tsinghua University is a case in point. Tsinghua University has sent two teams of professors to Qinghai University. The first team stayed for a little more than one year but brought substantial improvements to six basic courses in physics, higher mathematics, material mechanics, and rudimentary computer science, which could benefit many students, and made substantial progress in the construction of four laboratories in these four fields of study. Two of these basic courses emerged as among Qinghai University's best, and all these key courses and laboratories became pacesetters for Qinghai University's effort to develop good courses and build a quality faculty in other fields of study and catalyzed changes in the university administration's concept of teaching and schooling. The task of the second team of Tsinghua professors was to help build four more laboratories in electrical engineering and electronics, biochemistry and basic biology, mechanical CAD, and physical chemistry, which are related to Qinghai University's five major basic technical courses—electrical engineering and electronics, fundamental biology, mechanical cartography, physical chemistry, and statistical principles. In the course of their work, these professors also helped their assistants—ninety-one faculty members assigned by Qinghai University—to improve their professional level and become backbone teaching and research members of their faculty.

With the valuable support under this one-on-one support program, the schools of higher learning in the minority-inhabited areas are developing faster, have raised the quality of education, and acquired new self-improvement abilities.


Thanks to development efforts over the last fifty-five years, and especially in the recent two decades, minority higher education has cultivated many civil servants and professional talent for minority-inhabited areas and made great contributions to local economic and cultural development. The gains have manifested themselves in the following four fields.

First, a distinct higher education system for minorities has come to stay, allowing more and more minority students to enroll in independent institutes for nationalities, universities in minority-inhabited areas, and undergraduate and preparatory classes opened exclusively for them in hinterland universities. By following the principle of coordinating development in scale, structure, quality, and efficiency in the last two decades and more, this education system is now better geared to socio-economic development needs. Its learning disciplines have become better distributed; and the curricula have become more balanced. They are able to offer diverse levels of learning opportunities. The quality of their teaching is constantly improving, and their efficiency improves on a daily basis. In all, minority higher education has added form and substance to the national higher education system. In 2004, the areas under ethnic autonomy across the country had a total of 125 universities, 55,000 teachers, and 699,000 students, and produced 121,000 college graduates. There were 43,000 minority teachers in higher education institutions, or

5% of the country's total number of university teachers; 774,300 minority college students, or 5.8% of all of China's college students (Figure 7.4). There were fifteen institutes for nationalities across the land, with 13,700 on the payrolls, including 7,831 teachers, and a total student body of 122,900. In addition, there were also twelve post-secondary technical schools for minorities and institutes for nationalities affiliated to teachers' universities.

Second, minority higher education has cultivated large numbers of quality graduates for the country's minority groups and minority-inhabited areas. These graduates are willing to work at the grass-roots level with dedication and competence. Since the founding of New China, the country has cultivated nearly 3 million minority professionals. College graduates can be found in each of China's fifty-five minority groups, many of them holding master's or doctoral degrees. Graduates from institutes for nationalities and from colleges in minority-inhabited areas account for a high percentage of all the college-educated people working in minority-inhabited areas; they have become a staunch force in local development, and many of them have become civil servants at various levels and administrators in various trades and professions.

Third, the institutes for nationalities have distinguished themselves in research work and contributed tremendously to theoretical and applied research on ethnic culture. Some of their research results are already impacting development in their fields at home and abroad. Together with the universities in minority-inhabited areas, they have emerged as major research centers and bases producing high-level specialists for minority groups and minority-inhabited areas. They are also repositories for new ideas and new technology to be popularized in minority-inhabited areas, and bastions for carrying forward the country's outstanding cultural legacies.

Fourth, minority higher education cannot do without efforts to raise the cultural and scientific attainments of minority peoples, boost socio-economic progress in minority-inhabited areas, carry forward the country's diversity of outstanding cultural traditions, close the ranks among people of all ethnic backgrounds, and maintain social stability and safeguard national unification. It is a major driving force behind the implementation of the strategy of rejuvenating the country through science and education, the strategy to make the nation strong by cultivating talent, and the strategy to develop the western regions in a big way.

The importance of minority higher education is further underlined in the Action Plan for Rejuvenating Education 2003–2007 endorsed by the State Council in 2004. Among other things, the Plan calls for intensifying support for education in western regions and minority-inhabited areas, implementing a plan for cultivating core minority specialists of a high order, expanding enrollment of minority college students on condition that they agree to return to where they come from upon graduation, and setting up more undergraduate and preparatory classes for minority students in hinterland schools of higher learning. The Action Plan requests that western regions be granted more preferential policies related to school development, education funding, teachers' accommodation, and bringing in talent, that more assistance be given to the effort of every western province, autonomous region, or municipality to run a fine university well, and that top-notch professionals be encouraged to go to western universities on cooperation and exchange programs. It is believed that these measures will lead to better and faster development in minority higher education.