August 18, 2017


From Biodiversity to Policies to Politics

dandelion-clockDenis Couvet examines the political issues brought on by the question of biodiversity preservation.

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August 18, 2017


Education as Public Policy in China

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W. John Morgan explains how policy has impacted higher education in China.

China is a country marked by sharp differences in regional development and by social inequalities, especially between rural and urban areas. Given the economic and social development strategy of the Chinese Communist Party, education will continue to be a fundamental aspect of public policy aimed at managing this. The access to higher education opportunities is an excellent example of the process. Since 1998, Chinese higher education reform has replaced a state monopoly on investment and in the direction of graduates to employment by a system in which students – or their parents – share the cost of tertiary education and find a job in an open labour market. These market reforms saw higher education expand from one million new students each year to seven million by 2015.

This has had consequences. First, an increase in students from rural areas going to university, both absolutely and relatively. Secondly, those from poor families, whether rural or urban, find that tuition fees and living costs are significant economic burdens, given their income and compared with the state-funded education of the past. This has raised a barrier to rural students wishing to attend first-tier (or national key) universities (currently 112 out of 2,553 higher education institutions). For example, the proportion of rural students at Peking University dropped from 38.9% in 1985 to 18.5% in 2014.

The Chinese government has adopted strategies to meet these challenges. A survey in Shaanxi province showed that two-thirds of rural students are now eligible for support, such as scholarships, needs-based subsidies and loans. This is double that of their counterparts from urban families. The central government has also provided additional funding to support local universities in middle and western China over the period 2012-20.  More recently, special administrative measures have been adopted to improve access of students from deprived areas to first-tier universities. The Ministry of Education has asked such universities to recruit students more actively from 834 rural counties in which local schools are dominated by students from poor families; while the enrolment quotas for such students have increased from 10,000 in 2012, to 50,000 in 2015 and to 60,000 in 2016.

What may we conclude? First, state intervention, including administrative and financial measures, has been quite effective in supporting students from poor regions and vulnerable groups, such as ethnic minorities, in entering first-tier universities. Secondly, the impact of state intervention should not be overestimated. This is because policy has not touched the fundamental reasons behind the unequal distribution of higher education resources in China. These are unevenness of economic development among regions and a consequent stratification of higher education institutions: as research-oriented, teaching-oriented and vocational. Efforts towards higher education equality in China may be in tension with the official campaign of Party and State which aims to build ‘world-class’ universities.

Chinese higher education reform, and indeed the development of education generally, has human capital and social capital implications for the country. There are also political implications as a Chinese system of public policy formation and implementation evolves. For example, a rethinking of the fundamental relationship between higher education and social justice is suggested. Higher education reform should consider the civil society mission of universities in terms of citizenship education, of community empowerment and social justice. It should be recognized that universities have a responsibility for improving the general welfare of the Chinese people in a fair society. The need for this is absent from debates about higher education reform in China. The same may be said for public attitudes towards educational provision more generally, although considerable progress has been made throughout the system in recent years. The Chinese Communist Party understands that the development of an economically rewarded and cohesive population is necessary to the maintenance of its political hegemony, given growing social inequalities. The provision of, access to, and control of the content of public education is a key to this. As concluded elsewhere, the lesson for policy-makers in education, as in other aspects of policy, is to take public preferences more readily into account, in the interests of social harmony.

Professor W. John Morgan is Emeritus Professor, School of Education, and Senior Fellow, China Policy Institute, University of Nottingham; and Honorary Professor, School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University; and Leverhulme Emeritus Fellow, at the Wales Institute of Social and Economic Research and Data. In collaboration with Chinese colleagues he has published several articles and book chapters on education in China, especially on the graduate labour market. He has also edited (with B. Wu) two books on Higher Education Reform in China: Beyond the Expansion (2011) and on Chinese Higher Education Reform and Social Justice (2016). He contributed (with F. Li) the chapter on ‘Education: from egalitarian ideology to public policy’ to the Handbook of the Politics of China (Ed.) D.S.G. Goodman, Edward Elgar Publishing, (2015), 217-237. Professor Morgan’s latest book is a Handbook of Education in China (Ed., with Q. Gu and F. Li) to be published in the same series of Handbooks of Research on Contemporary China, Edward Elgar Publishing, August 2017.

Morgan Hbk EducationHandbook of Education in China is available now.



August 16, 2017


On the use of evolutionary theories

Personal development career

The final installation of the 3 part series where Lasse Gerrits discusses the ins and outs of collective decision making.

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August 9, 2017

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Which way is out? – Ethics in a post-Austerity World

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Six months into the unknown, no one seems to know which way is up. Britain is wallowing in a political impasse as a deeply wounded Prime Minister attempts to lure a bunch of Northern Irish recalcitrant into supporting her minority government, while trying to convince a skeptical public that she is in control. Having called the election early on the basis that she and only she could deliver stability and strength, Teresa May now presides over precisely the opposite. Her ‘don’t frighten the horses’ approach is a self-parody brilliantly caricatured by Australian Hugh Parkinson’s You Tube depiction of May at the head of the Monty Python search for the Holy Grail. It was only a flesh wound, after all.

Her problems run much deeper. The program she inherited from her predecessor David Cameron barely a year before has demonstrably tanked. Austerity is so-pre-2016! In a remarkably short time the British voter has fallen out of love with the Cameron-Osborne parable of the good responsible government. Cutting one’s cloth to fit. Trimming government expenditure to rein in the budget deficit has lost its never very bright glow for the majority of voters who have seen their real incomes fall, housing prices head over the horizon along with the prospect of fulltime, secure jobs. Young voters, in particular, are left facing a bleak future, weighed down with debt taken on to finish university degrees that provide no pathway to gainful employment. Is it any wonder that so many young people came out and voted for change – any change? Corbyn’s demonstrable distance from the neoliberal experiment and the verities of Blairite era, along with his promise to recreate a semblance of pre-Thatcher Britain, resonated wildly with many traditional Labour voters who had gone over to the other side convinced that ‘there is no alternative’. Along with May’s ambitions to turn Labour into a permanent Opposition, the major casualty of the 2017 election was TINA. Instead of burying Labour, May has breathed life back into the beast.

Like in the aftermath of Trump and Brexit, the political class has been left bewildered by the turn of events. In the long post mortem, still underway, numerous particular reasons have been adduced to account for the debacle. However, underlying all the special pleading and wisdom-in-hindsight, one thing is clear. Many voters thought – it wasn’t fair! They and everyone they knew were missing out. A small self-perpetuating elite was benefitting and it just wasn’t fair. The 2017 British election rediscovered the reality of class inequality after decades during which the political class had, they thought, effectively banished class rhetoric from mainstream political discourse. No attempt to undermine the critique by dismissing the concerns as a crude exercise in ‘the politics of envy’ could head off the charge. Underlying the material reality was a regenerated interest in ethics. What is fair depends in part of notions of desert and need. Neoliberalism as a political project had systematically stripped away any notion of the influence of ethical factors in public policy. Economic fundamentalism expressed in the imperative to ‘leave it to the market’ implicitly imposed a normative judgment about what was fair and right while denying that alternative value conceptions might reasonably be considered.

Conservative and liberal/social democratic conceptions of fairness tend to diverge, with the former prioritizing notions of ‘desert’ and relative contribution or ‘proportionality’ and the latter focused on need and an absence of ‘cheating’. In recent elections where established patterns and outcomes have been upset, it has been the widespread perception that ‘they system is rigged’ that has galvanized opposition to business as usual.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the election of Donald Trump to the US presidency. The failure of commentators to foresee the shakeup of electoral politics in countries like the USA and Britain mirrors the failure of the economics profession to anticipate the outbreak and consequences of the global financial crisis of 2008. In both cases, the value dimension is missing. The models of economists and political scientists – based on ‘rational choice theory’ – simply miss the ways in which socially constructed and reinforced ethical factors drive actual behaviours. Individuals are not rational maximisers, either with respect to their economic or voting actions. Good public policy should take into account the values that people bring to their lives. Assuming that people act ‘as if’ they are value-free rational calculating machines is bound to eventually run up against the reality that, in fact, they act differently with very surprising consequences. Far from being the value-free science promoted by its practitioners, orthodox economics expresses particular ethical precepts, while unintentionally repressing alternative value commitments; these moral precepts and absences bias public policy in clearly observable directions, with a range of consequences, some of which are unintended and – depending on an observer’s moral viewpoint – undesirable.

Mike Berry’s new book Morality and Power: On Ethics, Economics and Public Policy (Edward Elgar, 2017) takes up these issues and argues for an approach to policy analysis and development in the shadow of a progressive social democratic alternative.

Mike Berry, Emeritus Professor, Centre for Urban Research, RMIT University, Australia

Berry Morality

Morality and Power by Mike Berry is available now.


August 7, 2017


Why did we do that?

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Part 2 of the 3 part series where Lasse Gerrits discusses the ins and outs of collective decision making.

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