The reconfiguration of state–university–student relationships in post/socialist China

Post-Socialism is not Dead: (Re)Reading the Global in Comparative Education

ISBN: 978-0-85724-417-8, eISBN: 978-0-85724-418-5

ISSN: 1479-3679

Publication date: 13 December 2010


This chapter examines the changing state–university–student relationships in post/socialist China since the late 1980s. We begin with an introduction to four salient themes in scholarship on Chinese post/socialism that are highly relevant to higher education: globalization, gradualism, civic society, and a critique of holism. These themes help us explain interrelated educational trends that affect the state–university–student relationship: the globalization, “massification,” and stratification of higher education; the redefined role of the state in university governance and management; higher education marketization and privatization; and the quest for meaning and (e)quality in and through higher education. Our general argument is that during the “socialist” period the main relationship central to higher learning was between the state and students. Universities were agents of the state; from a legal point of view, indeed, universities did not have an independent status from the state. In the “post-socialist” era the university–student relationship has become more significant. We examine this reconfiguration through two case studies, one on the development of college student grievance and rights consciousness, and the other on reforms in higher education student services administration. When looked at from the point of view of the state, we see that appropriation and implementation of policies and regulations shaping student rights and services are in partial contradiction with state policies to accelerate economic growth and bolster party authority. From the point of view of universities, we see institutions grappling with how to deliver on forward-looking structures and actions while navigating between the state's policy mandates and growing expectations and demands of its student and business stakeholders. From the point of view of students, we see how constrained agency, uncertainty, and the power of the credential motivates social praxis. At all levels of the state–institution–student relationship actors are employing a kind of pragmatic improvisation (one of the salient features of post/socialism) captured by the well-known Chinese proverb “groping for stones to cross the river.” This saying is an apt metaphor for the tentative searching by state, institution, and individual for a safe foothold in the post/socialist world.



Ross, H., Zhang, R. and Zhao, W. (2010), "The reconfiguration of state–university–student relationships in post/socialist China", Silova, I. (Ed.) Post-Socialism is not Dead: (Re)Reading the Global in Comparative Education (International Perspectives on Education and Society, Vol. 14), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 299-327.

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