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Beryl Lieff Benderly

Can Education Reform Keep Chinese Science Students at Home?

Science students and postdocs from China are a significant presence in university labs and graduate and undergraduate programs across North America and Europe. Would fewer of China’s excellent aspiring scientists go abroad to study if more of the universities at home met international standards of research and, especially, undergraduate and graduate teaching?

Qingshi Zhu, a prominent chemist, education reform advocate and president of South University of Science and Technology of China (SUSTC), the country’s newest university, believes that the answer is yes, according to an intriguing article in Chemical & Engineering News. Keeping highly talented students and postdocs in China’s academic labs would, he notes, help boost the country’s overall research effort. The institution Zhu heads, which currently is seeking accreditation, is based on a different model from China’s older institutions and is designed to aim for world standards.

Bureaucracy, politics, and pressure to publish have stifled previous improvement efforts, including some by Zhu himself, reports Shawna Williams from Chengdu, China. Can SUSTC succeed in demonstrating a new model that could provide more Chinese students with world-class education without leaving home? It’s too soon to tell, Williams notes, although Zhu is optimistic. The outcome of this effort, and the influence it may have on other institutions in China, could affect decisions by talented Chinese students and postdocs about where to seek their educations — which would affect universities around the world.