[Thought Piece] How could Higher Education help in China-Africa South-South Cooperation? A Case of China Agricultural University


Poverty eradication and zero hunger are two challenging Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations (UN) for the Global South to achieve. With China’s experience of eradicating extreme poverty by 2020, development knowledge applicable to the Global South needs to be co-found, co-produced, and co-innovated, together with peers in Africa. The UN framework of South-South Cooperation (SSC) could provide platforms for such exchanges and mutual learning efforts to fill the gap between the global understanding and indigenous knowledge of specific localities in Africa, which needs to be studied, examined, and analyzed into applicable and useful know-how to be utilized for effective development cooperation. China-Africa educational cooperation could pursue that transformative or development institutional leadership to construct such partnerships, especially in the post COVID-19 era.

How Could Higher Education Have Transformative Institutional Leadership?

The word “transformative” means “making change”. Transformative leadership indicates collective efforts taken by actors that could provide solutions and make a difference[1]. Within institutional aspects, governments play important roles in this process. However, public actors like governments are not the only important actors at the global level of governance. Non-Government Organizations (NGOs), enterprises, and universities could also make great changes.

Higher agricultural education institutions are not only sophisticated in new knowledge research and development (R&D), but also in training, nurturing, and equipping the young people to work toward the SDGs. For the global-local interactions for development effectiveness, higher education could co-create the world we live in. This form of leadership could be seen from China’s ancient agricultural scientific achievements, its agricultural higher education reform, new agricultural disciplinary transformation, and potentials of China-Africa development cooperation.

From the Past to Today: China’s Agricultural Research and Development

As an agricultural country with rural population as the majority, China has been making great efforts to solve agricultural problems. In the 27 volumes of Science and Civilization in China written between 1954 to 1995, the British scientific historian Noel Joseph T. M. Needham (Li Yuese) named gun-power, compass, printing, and paper making as the Four Great Inventions of China. In his books, agricultural scientific achievements, which had been unknown to the world, these have been documented. Beside the Four Great Inventions, there have been Four Agricultural Books of China, namely, The Book of Fanshengzhi (about 1 century before Christ, late Han Dynasty), Qi People’s Essentials by Jia Sixie (533-544 A.D., North Wei), Wangzhen’s Agricultural Books (1313 A.D., Yuan Dynasty), and Comprehensive Treatise on Agricultural Administration by Xu Guangqi (1628 A.D., Ming Dynasty).

In the human history, there has been six innovative waves.[2]Accompanied with each wave, there was the agricultural knowledge innovation reformation.

During the 1st Industrial Revolution from 1780 to 1848, manual labors were substituted by machines due to the invention of steam power. It was also the early founding period for European agricultural colleges to upgrade agricultural technology and to apply it in their teaching.

During the 2nd Innovation Wave from 1848 to 1895, railways enabled transportation to be faster and cheaper. The US land-grant agricultural universities were set up in sub-national States to sharpen the competitive edges in agricultural science, research, and management. Japan reformed itself during the Meiji Reform in 1860s to 1890s, and its agricultural education developed fast. The western transformation also witnessed the establishment of the earliest agricultural college of China, Tongwen Foreign Languages Academy (jingshi tongwenguan), in 1862.

Between 1895 and 1940, the 3rd Innovation Wave featured electrification and chemical innovation, which reconstructed agricultural higher education into innovative systems for practical services. In 1898, the 1st Agricultural School in Wuhan, Hubei Province, was started, learning from the advanced experience from Japan. In 1902, Tongwen Foreign Languages Academy merged into the Metropolitan University (jingshi daxuetang), which later became the Foreign Languages College of Peking University. The Qing Dynasty launched a 3-level agricultural education system in 1904, which still follow Japan’s suit. In 1905, Agricultural College of the Metropolitan University was built. However, after the Xinhai Revolution in 1911 and the May 4th Movement in 1919, a Renxu Higher Learning System was built by 1922, setting up 48 Western-style agricultural colleges, learning from the experience of European and the US universities.

The 4th Innovation Wave was about automobile, petrochemicals, and bio-engineering between 1940 and 1979. Environmentalists realized the negative results from chemical pollution,[3] and found the necessity of international cooperation toward sustainability.[4] After the establishment of People’s Republic of China in 1949, China has been carrying out the “Five-Year Plans”. In 1949, Agricultural Colleges of Peking University, Tsinghua University, and North China University merged into Beijing Agricultural University (BAU). During that time, the newly established People’s Republic of China started to learn from Soviet Union, building specialized agricultural and forestry colleges and universities by 1952. During the first Five-Year Plan (1953-1957), 229 higher learning universities and colleges were established. After the 10-year Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), the College Entrance Examination (gāokăo) was instituted in 1977. Within two months’ time, 273,000 undergraduates were enrolled. In 1978, that number increased to 402,000. Also in that year, China announced its reform and opening-up policies, and 52 students were sent abroad, which number has risen to about 7 million in 2019. read more here

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