Several higher education critics have written before about the coming power of Chinese higher education. Back in February, 2010 the president of Yale said that soon “China’s top universities could soon rival Oxford, Cambridge and the Ivy League>.”

But not yet. According to a piece by David Lundquist in The Atlantic:

As an American only a few years separated from college life and now a lecturer at China’s top university, I suggest that when it comes to higher education, American institutions are leaving China’s in the dust. The weaknesses of the Chinese classroom are more or less well-known: rote learning, an America-inspired fixation with metrics for professorial performance (scholarly publications) and students with upwards of twenty-five class hours per week, resulting in large class sizes.

Libraries, the cathedrals of learning necessary for any university, are not up to specification. Newly built yet still cramped, they contain a ragtag collection of discarded books from American universities. The typical American community college boasts about the same. Contrast this with formidable collections of Chinese literature at elite American institutions.

As journalism goes, this is probably not one of the strongest pieces the world. The fact the People’s Republic of China has slightly shabby libraries compared to “elite American institutions” is hardly surprising or indicative of a problem. (Most American university facilities, in fact, are probably inferior to those of “elite American institutions.”)

But still, Lindquist brings up an interesting point. Just because China is putting many of its citizens into college doesn’t mean the country is producing the new elite. Are students in these Chinese schools receiving a great education? It seems no one can tell.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer