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William C. Kirby: Influential Thinking as the Basis for 21st-Century Higher Education


On the afternoon of January 15th 2018, the 31st Chongyang Forum was held in Beijing, with keynote speaker Professor William C. Kirby (Professor of China Studies and Chairman of the China Fund at Harvard, RDCY Council Member) delivering an address entitled "Universities in the 21st-Century: The Race for Leadership in Global Higher Education."Experts from China and abroad, students as well as media were in attendance, engaging in broad discussions about education. Yang Qingqing, Director of the Research Cooperation Department of RDCY, moderated the seminar.

In his welcoming address, RDCY Executive Dean Dr. Wang Wen warmly thanked Professor Kirby for his unfailing guidance and assistance as a foreign member of the RDCY Council since the institute`s inception. Noting with sincerity Professor Kirby`s invaluable contributions to the fields of Sino-US universities cooperation, as well as business and people-to-people exchanges. Dr. Wang described him as `a world-leading scholar and thinker`, and expressed an intense desire to further cooperate with Professor Kirby in the spheres of research and education.

Before delivering his substantive speech, Professor Kirby congratulated RDCY on its stellar achievements over the past five years since its establishment. He also shared his personal thoughts on witnessing the growth of new think-tanks with Chinese characteristics against the overall backdrop of China`s rise, wishing RDCY an ever-brighter future.

Taking as his starting point the topic of `21st-century higher education`, Professor Kirby proceeded to explain how Germany, the US and China define outstanding universities, and identify the institutions which, to his mind, qualify as such. As regards researching and teaching universities, Professor Kirby shrewdly pointed out that university rankings focus on the quantity of research to the detriment of teaching quality, resulting thereby in a gradual loss of interest in the latter. For Professor Kirby, the nature of education is more than mere preparation for jobs, or indeed repeated skills teaching, but rather general education that stimulates the minds of the students.

By way of summary, Professor Kirby made the following four suggestions on building universities for the 21st-century: first, that professors should produce new knowledge in addition to teaching; second, that academic freedom should be protected, encompassing the freedom to teach and the freedom to learn; third, that the importance of general education should be stressed; fourth, that students and professors should alike be possessed of the ability and consciousness to learn for life.

Other invited guests in this forum include John Ross (former Policy Director of Economic and Business Policy, London; RDCY Senior Fellow), Helen Han (CGTN English commentator; RDCY Senior Fellow), Teng Jimeng (Associate Professor of Beijing Languages and Culture University; English Adviser to RDCY), Jia Wenshan (Professor, School of Journalism at Renmin University of China) and Cheng Cheng (RDCY Associate Fellow). They engaged in an passionate debate on how to balance the relationship between teaching and research, stimulate students`free-thinking and differences in thinking between Chinese and Western education.

Professor William C. Kirby is a famous US Sinologist John King Fairbank, Professor of China Studies at Harvard, Chairman of the Harvard China Fund, Spangler Family Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, Member of the American Academy for the Humanities and Sciences, former Director of the Fairbank Centre for Chinese Studies and Member of the RDCY Council.

Key Words: education   university   RDCY  

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