Earlier this week, the announcement that Chen Baosheng will serve as China’s new Minister of Education took the region’s education professionals by surprise.

While academics have deemed the newly appointed Minister an ‘outsider’, analysts have confirmed that major higher education policies – including the promotion of the nation’s world-class research departments – will continue under his charge.

University World News notes that China’s Education Minister is in a powerful position, “with subsequent Ministers stamping their authority on the sector and promoting pet projects”.

Baosheng, former Communist Party Chief of the Chinese Academy of Governance, was appointed by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, and steps into the role as Yuan Guiren, Baosheng’s predecessor, declares his retirement.

In 2015, the Xi Jinping government enforced strict new rules to stamp-down the power surrounding top party representatives, declaring that officials must retire as soon as they reach a pensionable age.

Yuan will be widely remembered for his stance on Westernisation, after commenting that teachers and academics should ‘guard against the infiltration of Western ideas’ and avoid using teaching materials that disseminate ‘Western values’, University World News reports. He is also well-known for the effort he put towards strengthening ideological discipline across Chinese universities.

Qiang Zha, Associate Professor of Education at York University in Canada, said that at 65-years of age, Yuan “was due to go” as “he was over the age where he was allowed to hold public office”. However, Zha later stressed that “no one anticipated the appointment of the new Minister. He is a complete outsider.”

As former President of Beijing Normal University, Yuan originates from an academic background; his successor, on the other hand, has never previously held any academic posts.

Given Baosheng’s history as former leader of the Communist Party, many predict the new Minister will follow his forebear and continue to enforce ideological discipline across campuses. Baosheng had previously served at the provincial level of the Communist Party’s propaganda department and at the Central Party School.

“This could mean tighter political control over the sector during his term of office. There are indeed signs of such a move in most recent years,” Qiang told University World News.

Gerard Postiglione, Professor of Higher Education at the University of Hong Kong, believes Baosheng’s designation will strengthen government policies and greatly benefit education providers in poorer and provincial regions.

Over the past ten years, education inequality between rich and poor provinces has grown significantly, a factor that has had detrimental consequences on graduate employment rates in less prosperous areas, University World News reports.

“There has been a big debate on higher education access in China,” said Postiglione, “and there have been efforts to get students in western provinces better access to universities in the east. Parents have been very concerned.”

Attempts to stifle education inequality preceded Yuan’s time in office, and many believe it will remain a preference of the Xi Jinping government.

“We can expect to see a trend towards more egalitarian actions – more policies and strategies, and for resources to narrow disparities between regions, and between different university tiers in the [Chinese] higher education structure,” Qiang concludes.

Image via AP.

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