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Rethinking viewpoints of investigation on global higher education development: Using the case of China to propose an alternative perspective to understand world higher education



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Tan, Aiai 


Although rankings, especially those measuring universities in the global sphere, are recent creations, their pervasive impact on policy making and universities’ behaviours around the world seem to suggest the pursuit of becoming a world-class university has been a global trend in higher education development. However, the single-minded pursuit of world-class status in the rankings may lead to irrational strategies that could undermine the development of universities and limit the ways in which they contribute to society. Moreover, showing a preference for multiversity, the pervasive use of rankings may encourage the homogenous development of universities worldwide. To develop a few national universities into world-class universities has long been a goal for policy makers in China, where the first global ranking scheme was created. A hierarchy by design among higher education institutions under central planning governance seems to have been critical in the national strategy to develop the top universities in China. However, the newly implemented national initiative for world-class university development, i.e., Project DFC, seems to suggest an intention to reform such a governance regime. This research attempts to provide an updated account of the world-class university phenomenon against the background of governance reform in China by a case study in Shenzhen. By including both regional universities and regional government, which used to be excluded, in Project DFC, it seems that a slightly different understanding of a world-class university, the core of which is local engagement and contribution, has been advocated in Shenzhen. By bringing social relevance to the local region back in the discussion of world-class university development, it is considered that the case of Shenzhen may shed new light on the discourse of the world-class university and point to the possibility of a more sustainable path towards achieving world-class status.





Hayward, Geoffrey


case study, global rankings, institutions and institutional change, path dependency, policy research, world class university


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge