Policy Schools in China

May 10th 2016

The more we studied and learned about the Governance and the Party systems in China, the more curious I became to understand what policy programs in China look like, what do students focus on, what opportunities come their way and what changes do they make out there in the country on graduating. Visiting public policy/public affairs schools in both Shanghai and Beijing gave me an amazing opportunity to talk to MPA students, and understand their perspectives and experiences.

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When we visited the 120-year-old Shanghai Jiao Tong University (SJTU), School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), we had an opportunity to meet not only the University’s Associate Dean and the Part Secretary, but also participate in a classroom atmosphere, attend a lecture, and interact with students beyond lecture’s group discussion sessions. I couldn’t help but notice how similar the classroom structure, and the atmosphere was similar to classrooms in India where I studied – very vastly different from that of the US. During my interaction with the students of SIPA after class, I was asked to share about what Indians think of Chinese, in general, and two students, J and W shared their perspectives of Indian students and the country in general. It was quite interesting to hear a real, non-political, non-diplomatic, open perspectives that reflected commoner’s view. One thing that struck me was when J mentioned “China will never invest in another country, or build relations unless we benefit something out of it. Why would we work with another country if it’s not helping China to advance further”. To me, this reflected some parts of readings we’d done for the course on “nationalism”.

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When I further inquired about the courses they studied, the policy focuses, the variety of policy programs in the School, I was amazed to see how the program was vastly different from the US. For instance, their courses were not only focused largely on country’s governance and party system, but the students said they didn’t have any course along the lines of international development, values and ethics, human rights or program evaluation. I assumed that the program focuses largely on national policies and trains graduates really well to take up policy work in the local, state or national government. I realized my assumption was wrong when we met more policy students in Beijing, at the Renmin University.

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The experience at Renmin University was quite similar yet very different from that of SJTU. This time, at the Renim University, our meeting was mostly led by student presentations. There was definitely a lot more student discussions and interaction than SJTU. As I was listening to a student talk about Patient’s journey in China’s Healthcare, I was curious to know about China’s health insurance system. After the speaker answered my question, a student sitting next to me, Z, further explained the insurance system in detail.

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Over the several weeks of this course, to me, China’s One-party system and Governance always stood out as one of the most dynamic topics, a “hot topic”. So, I was quite surprised to know that on graduating, policy students hardly get any opportunity to be involved in the public affairs, directly. On chatting with Z about this, he told me that most policy students take up jobs at a Bank, like himself, or work in other companies. Very few work in non-profits as the returns are very low. And to become a part of Government or public affairs, it takes more than just an almost-impossible-to-crack exams and several years of beating-the-hierarchy. This reminded me of a video from our class on how one easily spends at least about 40 years to reach the top of the hierarchy, almost. It was peculiar that there are several public policy schools, and thousands of students graduating from incredible policy programs each year, yet, cracking the system in China was a distant dream to many.

As we walked out of the building, Z and A, talked to me more about their entrance exams, and the struggle students take to get into a top university and a top academic program. Apparently, for this particular class at Renmin University, only the top 51 rank holders among over 2 million test takers could attain an admit! I wasn’t quite surprised as it inevitably reminded me of a very similar common-entrance-admissions system in India.

Our visit culminated with a very royal lunch at the University’s restaurant, with several faculties, professors, Dean and so on.

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Sripriya Mohan


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