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The "University Autonomy: Theory and Practice" Academic Seminar was Successfully Held

On April 21, 2018, Peking University Education Law Research Center successfully held the "University Autonomy: Theory and Practice" academic seminar in the lecture hall of Koguan Building, Peking University Law School, Nearly a hundred leaders, experts, scholars from the Ministry of Education, local education administrative agencies, and Tsinghua University, Renmin University, University of Political Science and Law, Beijing Normal University, Capital Normal University, Beijing Foreign Studies University, Central University for Nationalities, Institute of International Relations, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Shanghai Jiaotong University, Central South University, Nankai University, Jilin University, East China Normal University and media representatives from national government agencies, universities, and scientific research institutions attended the meeting and conducted in-depth discussions on the issue of university autonomy.

The opening ceremony was chaired by Prof. Zhan Zhongle, Director of the Center for Educational Law Research at Peking University. He first gave a brief introduction to the purpose and significance of the seminar, and extended a warm welcome to the attending leaders and guests. He pointed out that the topic of "autonomy of the university" is consistent with the discussion of "academic freedom" in the seminar last year. University autonomy can be seen as an institutional guarantee for academic freedom. As a common practice in all countries in the world, university autonomy is a universal system, and the "self-sponsored schooling" mentioned in our country's actual laws is the embodiment of "university autonomy" in the Chinese context. Therefore, we must further study the connotation, scope, and method of university autonomy and the relationship with the party's leadership under the framework of constitutional law and the context of social governance. Only by guaranteeing the autonomy of the university can we rejuvenate our academic vitality, prosper the academic career, and establish a modern university system.



At the opening ceremony, Prof. Jiang Ming'an, Director of the Research Center for Constitutional and Administrative Law of Peking University, Prof. Pan Jianfeng, Party Secretary of the Peking University School of Law, and Prof. Wang Zhouyi, Vice Minister of the Department of Social Sciences of Peking University, delivered speeches and extended their warm congratulations on the opening of the seminar. Leaders, experts, scholars and media representatives expressed their sincere gratitude for taking the time to attend the meeting.

This seminar is divided into thematic report units and seven seminar units. Theme report unit was presided over by Prof. Yu An from Tsinghua University. Prof. Guo Daohui, Prof. Jiang Ping, Prof. Li Buyun and Prof. Jiang Ming'an, Director of the Research Center for Constitutional and Administrative Law of Peking University, were successively spoken by the famous jurists known as the “Three Oldies of the Rule of Law”. Among them, Prof. Li Buyun failed to visit the venue for any reason, congratulated him through the video, and authorized Professor Zhan Zhongle to send a speech on his behalf.



Prof. Guo Daohui proposed that academic freedom is required and that the mind must be emancipated to allow for a market of ideas. Without a free and competitive market for thought, it is impossible to form a situation in which one hundred schools of thought contend, and it is impossible to form an "ideological China." The autonomy of the university requires the formation of a market of ideas within the university. Of course, freedom is not absolute, and academic freedom in the ideological market does not allow freedom of speech that violates the constitution or violates civil rights, regardless of who wrote it. At the same time, for the parties to university autonomy and academic freedom, they also need to adhere to the spirit of truth and perseverance.



Prof. Jiang Ping believes that discussing the autonomy of universities on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the reform and opening up has itself reflected the need to intensify efforts to promote the autonomy of universities. In the 40 years of reform and opening up, an important part of the matter is to transform the management of the country’s all-embracing society into an organic combination of national governance and social autonomy. University autonomy is an integral part of social autonomy and is indispensable. . In order to realize the autonomy of universities, contemporary China still faces many difficulties and challenges. It is necessary to do a good job of two liberations. First, it is liberated from the bureaucracy. Academic freedom and the bureaucratic system cannot coexist. They are totally exclusive and should be made clear. The second is to liberate itself from the rigorous control of ideology. The truly created talents should have individual characteristics and personal characteristics, rather than being portrayed in a model.



Prof. Li Buyun said that universities are the yardstick for measuring society and that university autonomy is the premise and benchmark of social autonomy. At this level, the reason we emphasize university autonomy is precisely to promote social autonomy with university autonomy and social autonomy to promote the construction of a country under the rule of law. University autonomy involves both external affairs and internal affairs in terms of concrete connotation. For the former, because of the characteristics of the university as a public institution, it should form a connection with the construction of the rule of law society; for the latter, it is necessary to popularize legal culture knowledge in universities. To carry forward the culture of the rule of law, we must also correctly handle the relationship between academics and politics. The exercise of internal powers in universities must follow the rule of law and the spirit of democracy. We should, on the basis of further perfecting the system of school governance, innovate the ways in which universities exercise their internal power, such as through the vice president of the legal system. The establishment of a legal office etc. separates academics and politics, guarantees the supervision rights of teaching staff and the realization of university autonomy.

Prof. Jiang Ming'an proposed that the autonomy and autonomy provided for in the “Law on Higher Education” can be roughly summed up in eight areas: the proportion of admissions to the regulatory department; the establishment and adjustment of disciplines; daily teaching activities; scientific research, technological development, and social services; Cultural exchanges and cooperation; internal organization and staffing; assessment of teacher positions, determination of allowances, distribution of wages, and use of property. At the same time, China’s university autonomy has distinctive Chinese characteristics, manifested in party leadership, Marxist-Leninist ideology, state-sponsored, and government (educational administrative departments) centralized power. Under the new era background, the management of colleges and universities reflects four major trends: the release of administrative services, the deregulation of administration, the liberalization of the academic liberal environment, and the further strengthening of the democratization management within universities.



During the one-day conference, the participants focused on the subject of “university autonomy: theory and practice” and discussed the theoretical significance, intrinsic basis, basic connotation, historical changes, status quo reflection, and implementation path of university autonomy. The atmosphere of the scene was warm and the thought sparked again.

The participating scholars believe that the concept of university autonomy has a long history and is rooted in the ancient Western history tradition. Since modern times, Western learning has gradually evolved and it has gradually entered the vision of the Chinese as a "University Universal Example." It has been advocated and practiced by many theorists and practitioners. However, university autonomy is not only a philosophical concept, but a series of theoretical and practical issues such as its concept, essence, proper foundation, and safeguard methods need to be thoroughly investigated and analyzed from the perspective of law, pedagogy, and other social sciences. In a new era of comprehensively deepening the comprehensive reform of education, the academic research around university autonomy is not only not outdated, but it is even more of great practical significance.



Scholars at the meeting stated that university autonomy is a dynamic concept. Different countries have different provisions on specific autonomy matters such as organization, finance, academics, personnel, etc., which are suitable for the place, time, cause, and situation, and reflect the common characteristics. In order to minimize the outside world's intervention and dominance of university-sponsored studies, the fundamental goal of guaranteeing academic freedom is achieved. At the same time, university autonomy is a relative concept. It is not an absolute freedom from regulation, but a kind of limited freedom, that is, the balance of power allocation between the government and the university, and the realization of positive interaction between the two. In addition to the clear division of the space of autonomy by legislation, university autonomy is also limited by the rights of university members. It cannot infringe on the rights of its internal members in the name of exercising the autonomy of the university. It is awarded to students, the title of teachers, the discipline of students, and academics. In many matters such as the composition of the organization, we must not only base ourselves on the principle of academic freedom, but also comply with the principle of proportionality and follow due process in order to safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of its internal members.



The participating scholars believe that the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China started a new era of advancing the modernization of the state governance system and governance capabilities, and building a social governance structure for common governance and sharing has become an important goal of social construction in China. The university is a place for cultivating talents, studying knowledge, and exploring truth. University governance has a direct bearing on the fundamental issues of who to train, how to train people, and who to train people. Therefore, modernization of university governance is an important part of the modernization of state governance. Autonomy is the specific requirement for the implementation of social autonomy in the field of higher education.

The participating scholars proposed that, in an overall deepening of contemporary China in the era of reform, education, especially higher education and university governance, also experienced a profound transformation. Although our country’s laws do not clearly stipulate the autonomy of universities, the principle of “self-sponsored learning according to law” has long been established. Both Article 47 of the Constitution guarantees the basic guarantees, as well as the Education Act, the Higher Education Act, and Specific laws, such as the Private Education Promotion Law, serve as a direct basis, supplemented by a large number of administrative regulations, departmental regulations and other normative documents as a practical guide. Putting aside the differences in the expression of "self-sponsored learning" and university autonomy at the level of necessity, changing the current status of "self-sponsored studies" in colleges and universities is understatistical, lack of autonomy, and unclear guiding principles. This is a top priority for the development of higher education in China, and it is also a long-term need.




After more than thirty reports and more than ten comments, many important issues concerning the autonomy of universities have been fully expounded and discussed, and the seminar has come to a successful conclusion. More than forty papers were received in this seminar. The relevant reports and comments will be released to the public in an appropriate form. They will work with colleagues in the academic circles to jointly advance the theoretical study of university autonomy.


Translated by: Yang Jin

Edited by: Ding Jieyao