China is doing a poor job at political education for university students because the classes are outdated and unfashionable, the education minister said on Sunday in a rare admission of the difficulties faced enforcing a key government policy.
Beijing has campaigned against the spread of “Western values” at universities, and the ruling Communist Party’s anti-corruption watchdog last year sent inspectors to monitor teachers for “improper” remarks in class.
In December, President Xi Jinping called for allegiance to the party from colleges and universities, the latest effort by China to tighten its hold on education.
Speaking on the sidelines of the annual meeting of parliament, Education Minister Chen Baosheng said Xi had made “important comments” on political education for students in December, but that there were problems on the ground.
“When we go and investigate at colleges and universities, attention levels at thought and political theory classes are not high. People are there in body but not in spirit,” Chen said.
“Why is this? The contents do not suit their needs. Perhaps mainly the formula is rather outdated, the tools are rather crude and the packaging is not that fashionable,” he added.
Students need to be led by the core values of Chinese socialism to ensure their healthy moral growth, and they should also study traditional Chinese culture, revolutionary culture and “advanced socialist culture”, Chen said.
That is the best way to get students ready to shoulder their responsibilities to society, he added.
Crackdowns on what academics and students can say and should think are nothing new in China.
Curriculums and speech at universities, in particular, are tightly controlled by the government, fearful of a repeat of the pro-democracy protests in 1989 that were led by students.
In 2013, a liberal Chinese economist who had been an outspoken critic of the party was expelled from the elite Peking University.
A year later, the university, once a bastion of free speech in China, established a 24-hour system to monitor public opinion on the internet and take early measures to control and reduce negative speech, according to a party journal at the time.
China aims to build world-class universities and some of its top schools fair well in international rankings by various standards. However, critics argue constraints on academic freedom could inhibit those ambitions.
Reporting by Ben Blanchard; editing by Simon Cameron-Moore