Between a rock and a hard place: Higher education reform and innovation in China

Gaoming Zhang, Yong Zhao, Jing Lei, Gaoming Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Over the past few decades China's higher education has gone through dramatic growth and multiple rounds of reforms accompanied by a remarkable amount of financial investment, all aiming at developing world-class universities to grow innovative talents. Yet the outcomes so far have been disappointing. This paper aims to investigate this issue. By reviewing and analyzing selected educational reforms in higher education in China, this article discusses the reasons of the gap between the massive input for innovation in higher education in China and abysmal results. This paper also reports and analyzes a case that challenges central control and the gaokao system. Central control and the gaokao, the infamous college entrance exam, are the bedrocks of China's higher education and also the culprit for China's failure to cultivate innovative talents. Unless they are fundamentally changed it is unlikely that China will have the higher education system it dreams of having. This article provides an overview of China's efforts to cultivate innovative talents by strategically investing in building world-class higher education institutions (HEIs) and analyzes the reasons behind the apparent gap between its massive input and the abysmal results achieved.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)263-273
Number of pages11
JournalOn the Horizon
Issue number4
StatePublished - Sep 21 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • China
  • Creativity
  • Educational innovation
  • Educational policy
  • Higher education
  • Reform

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


Dive into the research topics of 'Between a rock and a hard place: Higher education reform and innovation in China'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this