In 2021, the People’s Republic of China has spent 4% of GDP on education.

Sergei Belov, Dean of the Faculty of Law at St Petersburg University, and Vyacheslav Suyazov, Head of the Centre for Educational Law at St Petersburg University, have taken part in a video conference with the administration of China University of Political Science and Law (CUPL). Representatives of the two universities have discussed the system of funding of state universities and access to university resources: equipment, libraries, social infrastructure — halls of residence, sports facilities — in Russia and China.

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From the Chinese side, the meeting has been participated by: the Vice-President of China University of Political Science and Law Dr Chang Baoguo; the Deputy Director of the Office of International Cooperation and Exchange Mr Lyu Yong; and the Head of the Division for International Exchange Affairs Ms Zhang Yuchen.

According to the colleagues from CULP, most universities in China, just as in Russia, are state universities. The system of administration is also similar: some of the universities are subordinate to the Ministry of Education. However, they represent an insignificant minority — a little more than 70 out of over 2,500 universities in China. The others are supervised by different public agencies, provincial and municipal governments.

In the PRC, 70% of a state university budget is from state funding. The rest 30% are acquired from other sources, including: revenue from implementation of non-degree programmes, social support programmes or alumni donations. Another revenue source, even though minor, is tuition fees.

In China, university tuition fees do not exceed 5,000 yuan per year. It is about $700.

Dr Chang Baoguo, Vice-President of China University of Political Science and Law

The amount of state funding allocated to a university depends on its calibre and the number of students. ‘For example, CUPL receives relatively little state funding, even though we are among the top universities subordinate to the Ministry of Education. This is due to our narrow specialisation in legal sciences, which infers a small number of students,’ explained Dr Chang Baoguo. Central government allocates for CUPL 1.2 billion yuan per year, while larger universities receive larger grants — about 20 billion yuan per year. Besides, the Ministry of Education sets the maximum admission threshold to control universities and deter them from exaggerating enrolment. The amount of funding reflects the number of teaching staff, classrooms, auditoria and other available facilities.

If a Chinese university needs money for a major off-budget expenditure item, for instance, for the construction of a new canteen or a stadium, it has to apply for additional funding. Additional funding is awarded through competitive grants, and as a rule, universities do not receive the requested funding in full. About 30% of the expenses must be covered with universities’ own funds. In addition, the state is willing to support innovative projects, research, and new academic programmes in national priority areas. Funding is awarded through competitive grants, which enhances higher education institutions’ competitiveness and encourage better use of resources.

In China, university resources — equipment, sports and infrastructure facilities, halls of residence, etc. — are typically used only by teaching staff and students of a particular university. However, according to the representatives of CUPL, there are exceptions: ‘For example, if two universities signed a partnership agreement, they may have shared access to the premises. Open access is also available in the so-called university clusters, including those newly established by the government’s decision.’

The Dean of the Faculty of Law at St Petersburg University Sergei Belov noted that the resource use policy implemented in Russia with regard to state universities is similar to the system adopted in China.

The authorities distribute resources among state universities and each of them has autonomy over its assets.

Sergei Belov, Dean of the Faculty of Law at St Petersburg University

According to Russian experts, this approach leads to a widening disparity in resources between the ‘flagship’, leading universities and all the rest. This is reflected in regional development disparities and can hinder youth from obtaining quality education in a ‘major-league’ university.

To remedy this situation, Russian universities should strengthen their interaction. These issues were discussed in more detail by the Rector of St Petersburg University Nikolay Kropachev, the Dean of the Faculty of Law Sergei Belov and the Deputy Head of the Russian Presidential Directorate for Science and Education Policy Yulia Linskaya in their paper ‘Unity of the system of state universities in today’s Russia’ published in the journal ‘Vestnik of St Petersburg State University. Management’ in 2020.

According to the experts, universities could open access to their resources if this helped to increase resource efficiency. On the other hand, the authors of the paper have little hope for universities’ willingness to cooperate. In their opinion, universities are motivated not to share but to protect their own resources. Equal access to resources that are created through public investment should therefore be determined at the state level. Moreover, access to resources should be provided in accordance with fair, clear and understandable regulations.

During the meeting, scholars from St Petersburg University and China University of Political Science and Law agreed to prepare a collaborative research paper comparing the Russian and Chinese systems of public administration in higher education. They also agreed to develop academic cooperation and student exchange programmes.