Doctor of Social Sciences, honoris causa (2019)
Professor Zhong Binglin is a renowned educator who has made tremendous contributions to the reform of China’s education system. During his long service in academia and government, he has played an instrumental role in modernising the mainland’s universities and addressing quality and equity issues of its schools.
Professor Zhong’s first foray into education was in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when he was among tens of thousands of urban Chinese youth who responded to the Down to the Countryside Movement. Fresh out of high school in Beijing, he went to a poor village outside Yan’an in Shaanxi province, where he worked in the fields and doubled up as a substitute teacher for a mixed class of primary students of different ages. The experience made him realise the gaping urban-rural divide that existed on the mainland at the time and that poverty could only be eradicated at its root through education. The four and a half years he spent in the countryside also taught him valuable life lessons — that success in every human endeavour depends on one’s ability to pool people together and mobilise their enthusiasm to work together.
As a mechanical engineering student at the Nanjing Institute of Technology (now Southeast University) in the mid-1970s, he impressed his professors as a bright student with great potential. When he graduated in 1977, he stayed at the university as a teacher and earned his master’s degree. In the early 1990s, he was sponsored by the university to further his studies in Britain. But even before he had completed his doctoral studies, the university made an exception to the rule by appointing him a full professor in 1992. He had to interrupt his studies twice to become the associate head, and then the head, of the university’s mechanical engineering department. Soon after he obtained his PhD degree from the University of Wales in 1994, Professor Zhong was appointed Vice-President of Southeast University.
In 1996, Professor Zhong was recruited by the central government to become the Director General of the Department of Higher Education at the Ministry of Education. During his tenure, he made important contributions in expanding the scale of higher education, reforming its mode of nurturing talent, and improving its management system.
In 2001, Professor Zhong was appointed President of Beijing Normal University, one of the country’s leading teacher training universities. There, he re-positioned the institution into a comprehensive research university that emphasises teacher education, educational science, the arts and the sciences. An advocate of internationalisation, he led the university on a pioneering move to team up with Hong Kong Baptist University, then headed by Professor Ng Ching-fai, to launch the United International College (UIC) in Zhuhai. When UIC admitted its first batch of students in 2005, it was the third such joint-venture between a mainland university and a non-local partner, and the first such cooperation between a mainland university and a Hong Kong university.
On stepping down as President of Beijing Normal University in 2012, Professor Zhong became the President of the Chinese Society for Education, a position from which he offers advice to policy-makers on all levels of the education system. In his view, having solved the problem of inadequate education provision, the mainland has to turn its attention to raising the quality of schools and ensuring resources are equitably distributed. He is concerned that the competition for admission into a small number of so-called “top schools” has bred unhealthy teaching and learning practices. The problem could only be relieved by encouraging every school to raise its quality by developing its unique “inner strengths” and develop every student’s full potential by teaching according to their abilities and interests.
To address the uneven distribution of education resources, Professor Zhong strongly supports reserving a specified number of university places for disadvantaged students from poor regions. He strives to promote the reform of the College Entrance Examination by allowing students to choose from a range of test papers of different levels, take the English examination twice a year and study a broad range of subjects rather than a narrow stream of arts or science subjects. He also calls on universities to admit students on the basis of their comprehensive capabilities instead of just their examination results.
Professor Zhong’s advice to teachers on the frontline is that they must respect their profession, love their students, acquire new knowledge constantly and ensure their teaching is student-centred. As contending interest groups seek to advance their own agendas, he exhorts policy-makers to take a holistic view, develop solutions through vigorous research and create better working conditions for teachers by raising their social status and remuneration.
As his career progressed, Professor Zhong’s research interests have extended beyond mechanical engineering to encompass the environment, poverty and education management. He has led research projects commissioned by the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Finance and Beijing Municipality. He has edited six books, published more than 80 papers in academic journals and supervised dozens of doctoral and master’s students in various disciplines.
Over the years, Professor Zhong has served on many organisations at home and abroad, including as a National Committee member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, a member of the Hong Kong Council for Accreditation of Academic and Vocational Qualifications and an Honorary Professor of the Aalborg University in Denmark. Currently, he is head of the National Steering Committee for Professional Degree Education in Educational Science, Honorary Vice-President of Cardiff University and a member of the State Council’s Academic Degree Committee, National Education Consultative Committee and National Steering Committee for Education Examination.
For his exemplary contribution to the field of education, Hong Kong Baptist University is pleased to confer on Professor Zhong Binglin the award of Doctor of Social Sciences, honoris causa.