Time to compare university and research funding in Kansas and the United States with that in a progressive country on the move. Readers who follow this column know I am again writing from China.
In March of 1986, China initiated its State High-Tech Development Plan. Just as we have come to recognize "9/11" as an abbreviation for the September 11, 2001 attack, China uses dates to name many of its programs and this research push is known as the 863 program (1986–March).
The 863 program funds development of advanced technologies. It funnels money into industries, universities and government agencies for new materials development, energy, automation, laser technology, information technology and space (supporting their Shenzhou space program). In 1986, they added telecommunications and marine technology. Few Americans know that China has developed the largest and most advanced undersea exploration vehicle that is diving to the deepest parts of the ocean while their spacecraft goes into orbit overhead. Incidently, the U.S. is currently scuttling half of our ocean research vessels.
Because China made the huge error of shutting down schooling for a decade during the Cultural Revolution of 1965-75, they realized that there would be a university leadership gap in the mid-1990s that would allow them to completely re-organize their universities when the senior educational leadership retired. They seized this opportunity to close weak schools, merge small dispersed institutions, and move some federal universities to the provincial level for funding.
They likewise embarked on the largest expansion of universities in human history, doubling student capacity in five years, then doubling again by 2006 and doubling again to where it is just now levelling off. I was again at the University City in Chongqing this year where 15 new universities hold a total of 300,000 students, faculty and support staff. Imagine the populations of Wichita and Topeka combined—but all university! Guangzhou and Xi’an have university cities with 10 new universities each.
At the same time in 1996, China picked approximately 100 universities for extra funding through the 211 program, named for being their 21st Century vision for one hundred schools. These schools train 80 percent of China’s doctorates, have nearly all of the country’s funded "key laboratories" and get about three-fourths of the science research funding from their National Science Foundation—yes, the same name and function as the U.S. NSF because it is modelled after ours. In the first five years, from1996 to 2000, China pumped over US$ 2 billion into the 211 schools, and that support has gone up ever since. Project 211 schools form about 6 percent of the approximately 1800 academic universities in China.
Project 985 (founded in 1998 in May, of course) funds the top 39 universities. Both the national government and the provinces add additional money to expand these universities, fill them with state-of-the-art research equipment, bring in the best faculty, and send them to conferences worldwide. The increases in funding to these schools varies but has often grown 24 percent year-over-year.
Finally there is the Thousand Talents Program. Begun in 2008, it has hired over 2,260 world class scholars to come to China. Some go to industrial research centers and a few into financial agencies, but most join university staff. They are a mix of Westerners and overseas Chinese and they commit to stay for five years. The criteria is that they are THE expert in their field, and they get a one million yuan salary per year and ten million yuan for research start-up [divide by five for US dollars]. This is similar to university “raids” that occurred decades ago in the U.S. For instance, SUNY–Stony Brook raided talent from K.U. in the 1970s. Our last university raids were by Arizona State 20 years ago. We can no longer afford it.
This year I spoke at South China Normal and sat on exam panels at Chongqing Normal University, both 211 schools, before coming to Northwest Agricultural and Forestry University that is both 211 and 985. I cannot walk two blocks without having to detour around new construction. Their labs are state-of-the-art and I have met both Western and Chinese 1000-Talent professors. They plan to succeed. So, I just heard the news about the deep budget cuts for Kansas universities. Looks like we have other plans.