Educational networking and study tours enhance liaison, cooperation, and possible partnerships among participating universities. I organized one such tour in Central China in November 2017 with four countries participating: Malaysia, Thailand, China, and the Philippines.
Wuhan is home to universities that showcase their educational leadership and expertise in science and technology, innovation, and business development as well as government support to institutions. China Universities of Geosciences (CUG), Huazhong University of Science and Technology (HUST), and Wuhan International Culture University hosted the participants. CUG has produced the most natural scientists and is home to the biggest geosciences museum of the country with its precious and semi-precious stones, fossils, and evidence of various life forms, human evolution, and development. The university adheres to international standards of management as evidenced by its accounting procedures and financial management.
HUST, which has produced the founder of WeChat, prioritizes robotics in its curricula. It gives its students the space, time, and resources to experiment on their projects for long hours each day. The campus is a vast playing field for testing and retesting their hypotheses until their toy race cars are running and their robots are following instructions.
The last university focuses on technical and vocational skills development.
At the campus entrance are replicas of St. Peter’s Square, the Louvre, and the Arc De Triomphe, among others. Students in this tech-voc school receive support for their training and development.
The students in these three universities use only Chinese-developed apps on their smart phones and other gadgets. WeChat is widely used not only for connectivity but also payment of everything, making Chinese society hugely cashless. Student organizations include a group that propagates the political agenda of the national government. Classes are teacher-centered, and students regard their teachers as experts in their fields of study. Faculty members are sent abroad to study while those who remain in China are continually updated by foreign experts whom the school administrators invite.
Each school has residences for both the faculty and students. One campus has 50 business incubation rooms, 13 canteens to serve the 45,000-strong population, a number of residential flats for faculty and their families, 10 basketball courts, 4 football fields, swimming pools, and other sports facilities. Exceptional students are given scholarships, but not all of them are accepted in universities.
Managing universities in communist China may seem easier than managing universities in democratic countries as the government provides for their fiscal needs. Decision making is centralized, and priority plans are handed down from the top for implementation.
In effect, the universities have to follow what has been laid out and articulated for them. Students cannot exercise their initiative, their basic rights, and the freedom of expression and participation. They are not able to ask questions on policies and governance. They have no opportunity to lead and govern their cohorts. They don’t even have siblings with whom to share their life experiences.
There is no perfect governance structure and there is no perfect ideology. This study tour made me value more our democratic ideals and practices despite the chaos and mess. I appreciate my students more as they freely ask questions and seek answers. I prefer listening to their differing opinions to seeing them nod quietly but unhappily. I accompany them to be technically competent, humane, ethical, and socially responsible in an environment where they can be the best versions of themselves. This is the essence of education. This is the reason why I teach.
As I was delivering a lecture on campus governance at one of the Chinese universities and answering the questions of the students, the translator was beaming while he was translating. According to my colleague, who speaks both English and Mandarin, the translator was nearly exact in his translation of my lecture.
At a dinner with university officials, the translator and I were opposite each other at a 20-seat round table.
When we were asked to say a few words to everyone, he stood and thanked the university for allowing him to join the dinner, and specially thanked me for the “inspiration and the information that in (the) Philippines, students have enjoyed their freedom and rights” that he envied so much and wished they could have experienced in their lifetime.
Dr. Maria Paquita D. Bonnet teaches Lasallian Business Leadership, Ethics, and Corporate Social Responsibility, and Strategic Human Resource Management at De La Salle University. She also teaches at the Educational Leadership and Management Department of DLSU. She is the Director of the Institute of Student Affairs, Asia-Pacific Student Services Association with administrative office at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.