Working Paper 52
The role of higher education in generating ‘public’ and ‘common’ goods: A comparison of Sinic and Anglo-American political cultures
Published January 2020

CGHE Working Paper 52 by Simon Marginson and Lili Yang compares Sinic and Anglo-American approaches to the role of higher education in generating public and common goods. It parallels the two higher education systems in the light of their political and educational cultures and their approaches to collectivism and individualism.

It outlines how the state in China is and always has been a comprehensive state, in contrast to the Anglo-American limited liberal state. In the Anglo-American countries economic policy has constructed a limited role for public goods so as to maximise the scope for the market economy. There is a growing emphasis on higher education as a private good.

Despite this, Anglo-American countries also practice a broader notion of ‘public’ based on communications and democratic inclusion in civil society and higher education as part of the civil order. Compared to the English-speaking countries, China’s political culture embodies larger potentials for collective ties, shared goods and state intervention in higher education, and a lesser role for higher education in fostering civil society.

There is a growing emphasis on the individual in Chinese culture, and Western influences in higher education are obvious. Chinese higher education is more influenced by Anglo-American ideas than vice versa. Many Chinese academics and students are bilingual. Historically, China has always had the capacity to take in foreign ideas and make them part of the mix.

The paper finds that nevertheless, Anglo-American and Sinic political cultures contrast greatly and this impacts the wider conversations and debates which inform the social nature and role of higher education. Though the two sets of higher education institutions have much in common, especially in the sciences, there are also deep underlying differences. Yet they share a common space in worldwide higher education.