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Higher Education As a Public Good

Critical Perspectives on Theory, Policy and Practice


Ourania Filippakou and Gareth Williams

Higher education is likely to involve the majority of people at some time in their lives in the twenty-first century. The main drivers of expansion in the previous century were a belief that widening access promotes social equity and the advance of knowledge as the main factor underpinning economic success for individuals and societies. However, universal higher education in rapidly changing economies raises many questions that have been inadequately treated by previous authors. This volume focuses on the question of whether it is appropriate and inevitable that higher education systems are becoming so large and so diverse that the only realistic way they can be analysed is as aggregates of market-like transactions. Most of the authors are not satisfied with this conclusion, but they recognise, from several disciplinary perspectives, that it is no longer possible to take it for granted that higher education is intrinsically a public good. Are there convincing alternatives?
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IX. A Cultural Value in Crisis: Education As Public Good in China



IX.  A Cultural Value in Crisis: Education As Public Good in China


The nature of higher education has seldom been under scrutiny in China. By China here we refer to the Chinese Mainland. Education in ancient China, represented almost solely by the imperial civil examination, was always designed and expected to serve the state, which was represented by the Emperor. This chapter observes that the modern higher education system, borrowed from the west, exists in that legacy, and was reinforced under the communist regime in its first decades. In a sense, education was always a public good. However, there is recent attention to a transformation whereby higher education would become a private good, which would have fundamental implications for the entire education system.

Francis Hsu (1985), in his study of the Chinese from a cultural psychological point of view, concluded that absolute ‘self’ in the western sense never existed in China. Individuals are always seen as part of a social structure, which is basically hierarchical in nature. There is therefore no absolute self. Everything about self is relative to the social rubric. He further explains that in the Chinese culture, there is always a relative importance of self at all levels: the ‘smaller self’ and the ‘larger self’. Individual persons are smaller selves compared with the immediate family, which is the larger self. The immediate family has a similar relationship to the extended family, the family to...

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