Opportunities and Challenges for Liberal Arts Education in China and Beyond

Noah Pickus speaking during the June symposium at Duke Kunshan University.
Noah Pickus speaking during the June symposium at Duke Kunshan University.

China has the opportunity to pioneer liberal arts and sciences education on a scale that could become an example for the rest of the world, according to a series of recommendations compiled by Noah Pickus of Duke and Duke Kunshan Universities and Kara Godwin of the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College.

The recommendations, published this month by the Boston College Center for International Higher Education as part of its CIHE Perspectives series, are the product of research and a symposium held earlier this year at Duke Kunshan University regarding the opportunities and challenges facing China as it works to renew and strengthen its liberal arts and sciences offerings. Representing 20 different institutions, attendees came from leading universities in mainland China as well as Singapore, Hong Kong, the United States and Canada.

Participants in the June symposium identified six key areas where China can invest substantially to strengthen its aspirations for well-rounded educational excellence:

  • Make general education matter by improving the quality of general education courses offered outside of students’ major areas
  • Support interdisciplinary integration to prepare students to deal with unscripted, difficult-to-predict problems
  • Create faculty incentives and development opportunities to support a renewed approach to classroom teaching and rewards that align with liberal arts and sciences objectives
  • Embrace innovative pedagogy by experimenting with new education methods and purposefully integrating co-curricular learning activities
  • Scale quality programs by leveraging new technology and developing new paradigms for quality teaching experiences
  • Ensure that educational offerings are relevant to local and global conversations and conditions by studying multiple traditions

Pickus and Godwin said that as China renews its universities’ liberal arts offerings, it has an opportunity to develop the education and career readiness of its own citizenry, as well as for the country’s education system to demonstrate for other countries how to structure and deliver education in the liberal arts tradition on a significant scale.

“This is a remarkable moment in liberal arts education,” Pickus said. “Chinese institutions are experimenting with a number of new approaches to the liberal arts, and while this is an incredibly complex undertaking, China is poised to be among the leaders in this global movement.”

The report is also available on the Center for International Higher Education’s website. The English-language report includes four background papers by Yong Zhao (University of Kansas); William Kirby (Harvard University); Qiang Zha (York University); and Gerard Postiglione, Ying Ma, and Alice Te (University of Hong Kong). A Chinese-language version of the report is available here.