Chinese Government Initiatives for Recruiting Academic Staff and Developing the HE System

In the last two decades the Chinese government has introduced a number of initiatives aimed at building world class universities. These include the 211 project and the 985 project which were targeted at developing the research capacity of the Chinese higher education system. In addition, the government introduced the Changjiang Scholar and 1000 talents programmes with the aim of attracting top Chinese and foreign scholars from overseas to work in China.

The 211 Project

The 211 project, entitled “High-level Universities and Key Disciplinary Fields” project, was initiated in 1995 by the Ministry of Education with the aim of improving the research standards of top Chinese universities for the 21st Century. In its first three stages (1996-2000, 2002-2006 and 2007-2011), the project involved the investment of more than ¥17.7 billion (£1,752,167,637,092)* by the Ministry of Education in more than 100 universities, on condition that this would be more than equally matched by provincial and local government authorities.

The project is now in its fourth stage and includes 118 universities which have met the required standards of the Ministry of Education in relation to their research outputs and provision of advanced degree programmes. These universities make up only 6 percent of the 1,700 higher education institutions in China. They train over 80 percent of China’s doctoral students and two-thirds of graduate students, and run 96 percent of the country’s key laboratories.

The 985 Project

The 985 project, entitled the “World Class Universities” project was first announced by Chinese President Jiang Zemin in 1998 with the aim of promoting the reputation and research capacity of the very top Chinese Universities. The project involves both the Ministry of Education and provincial governments allocating significant funds to build research centres, attract world-class faculty and assist Chinese faculty to do research overseas. Although the government concentrated its funding on nine top universities in the first stage of the project, the number of universities was expanded to 39 in the second stage. Under project 985 the amount of funding received by a university depends on the ranking of the university, and agreements between the university involved, the Ministry and provincial governments. Typically, provincial governments are expected to match funds provided by the Ministry of Education. The total investment provided by the Ministry of Education amounted to ¥14.0 billion (£385,895,306,175)* in phase one and ¥18.9 billion (£1,870,958,663,336)* in phase two, with half of that funding concentrated in the top nine institutions, known as China’s Ivy League. The project is now in its third phase (2009-present). The government has announced it does not intend to open up this scheme to other universities and will concentrate its resources on the existing 39 institutions .

Changjiang Scholar’s Programme

The Changjiang Scholar’s programme was introduced in 1998 with the aim of strengthening the research capacity of the Chinese higher education system by attracting Chinese professors working overseas back to Chinese universities. Funding under the programme is provided by the Ministry of Education and the Li Kai Shing foundation to top up the salary of researchers, and provide them with significant research funding and a housing allowance. On an annual basis the programme funds the appointment of 150 distinguished professors for a period of five years and 50 chair professors for a period of three years. These appointments are decided through a review process administered by the Ministry of Education.

1000 Talents Programme

The 1000 talents programme or “Recruitment Program of Global Experts” was introduced in 2008 to facilitate the recruitment of scholars based overseas to work in China for a three year term. The scheme provides each successful applicant with a lump sum of ¥1 million (£98992)*, research funding of between ¥3 and ¥5 (£296977 – £494962)*million and contributes towards the salary costs of the host institution. By the end of 2012, more than 2,700 scholars had been recruited under the programme.

Success of the Research Initiatives

There is some evidence to suggest that the Chinese government’s investment in these key research initiatives is paying off. Recent research has shown that the rate of growth of publications amongst Chinese scholars has increased as a result of the 985 project. By the year 2008, China had overtaken the UK as the world’s second largest producer of research papers and is predicted to reach the level of the USA by 2020. These research initiatives seem to have been especially beneficial to second tier universities, as their growth rates in publications have outperformed those of the top nine institutions. However, the amount of ‘highly cited’ papers is still significantly behind that of US and UK institutions, suggesting that the research initiatives introduced by the Chinese government might be promoting quantity over quality of research. In addition, the amount of papers published in the two top science journals ‘Nature’ and ‘Science’ has not increased significantly since the introduction of these schemes. The reasons for this are complex. Some commentators suggest this may result from a poor research culture in many institutions, where more senior academics with fewer English skills and lower levels of performance monopolise the resources, making it difficult for young academics trained overseas to progress. Others have highlighted the lack of networks with editors of key journals who tend to be located in Western countries as a further constraint on the ability of Chinese scholars to get their research into top outlets.

Despite these issues, the initiatives introduced by the Chinese government have opened up their higher education sector to best practice from overseas and promoted a research culture in Chinese universities. In the coming years Chinese higher education is likely to become stronger and more competitive as a result.


* Pound Sterling equivalent at September 2014

Yuan, C.L., Zhang, G., 2011. The Ministry of Education: 985 and 211 Projects have Closed their Door. ChinaYouth Online

Zhang, H., Patton, D., and Kenney, M. (2013). Building global-class universities: Assessing the impact of the 985 Project, Research Policy, 42: 765-775.

Royal Society (2011). Knowledge, networks and nations: global scientific collaboration in the 21st century. RS Policy Document 03/Issued March2011 DES2096.

Zhang, H., Patton, D., and Kenney, M. (2013). Building global-class universities: Assessing the impact of the 985 Project, Research Policy, 42: 765-775.