Higher education key to fostering new quality productive forces

BY MAO JUNFA | 04-11-2024
Chinese Social Sciences Today

Developing new quality productive forces can inspire a historic transformation of higher education. Photo: TUCHONG 

A quality workforce is essential to building greater strength in science and technology, and sci-tech prowess is vital to building a strong nation. In China, high-quality development is the overriding principle of the new era, and accelerating the development of new quality productive forces is an endogenous requirement and a pivot of practicing the overriding principle. 

As the leading force behind China’s push to become a leading country in education, higher education is the key to promoting high-quality development through the integration of education, science and technology, and human resources. It is critical to understand the underlying logic of the integration and sound cycle among the three aspects, piloting the formation of multifold talent dividends to enhance self-reliance and strength in science and technology, and facilitate national and regional development strategies, thereby clarifying what institutions of higher learning can do for the nation’s pursuit of new quality productive forces. 

Productive force upgrades

In the field of education, developing new quality productive forces can inspire a historic transformation of China’s higher education. Each upgrade to productive forces will necessarily raise new requirements for the workforce structure, profoundly influencing innovation in talent cultivation models and philosophies.  

The first industrial revolution emancipated the people’s minds and sped up the establishment of a modern disciplinary system for higher education. The second industrial revolution ushered in a golden age of science, making higher education ever more institutionalized, as scientific research’s role in driving industrial development gradually became prominent. In the third industrial revolution, various advantages were utilized and diversity was advocated, creating a “big science” era in the field of higher education. This further fostered a cyclic relationship among scientific theories, technological innovation, and industrial development, which promote one another.  

New quality productive forces generated in the new round of technological revolution and industrial changes will inevitably have a tremendous impact on educational reform and expedite the modernization of education. As a crucial link in advancing social productive forces, higher education is pressed for playing a demonstration effect in talent cultivation and technological innovation, hence spearheading and pushing ahead with China’s high-quality social and economic development. 

Reform to talent cultivation

Talent is the primary resource for innovation and development, and the core element for the development of new quality productive forces. The formation of talent dividends, as a historical process and on a continuous spectrum, entails hierarchical, classified, and multidimensional measures tailored to the times, local conditions, and industries. 

Higher education must seize the general trend of talent cultivation and educational reform, center around intrinsic requirements for developing new quality productive forces, and focus on reforming the disciplinary, pedagogical, and innovation systems. The aim is to fully and constantly unleash established population dividends, growing engineer dividends, and future-oriented dividends of top-notch innovative talent. 

The development of new quality productive forces calls for a reform of the disciplinary system. As General Secretary of the CPC Central Committee Xi Jinping said, “The discipline and talent development frameworks within higher education institutions should be refined in response to the latest trends in scientific and technological development, so as to cultivate personnel urgently needed for bolstering new quality productive forces and driving high-quality development.”

To improve the talent development framework in line with new quality productive forces, it is significant to build a matched system of disciplines and majors to align the top-level design of educational development with productive forces. Higher education needs to closely follow new requirements and focus on the current workforce development strategy and Chinese modernization, targeting cutting-edge and key fields in science and technology. Efforts should be made to deepen the supply-side reform of disciplines and majors and prioritize disciplinary construction, to proactively comply with national and regional imperatives for economic and social development, knowledge innovation, technological advancement, and industrial upgrade, and to optimize, adjust, upgrade, iterate, and reconstruct disciplines and majors. It is vital to serve the construction of strategic emerging industries and future-oriented industries through disciplinary system optimization, cementing the foundation for accelerating the development of new quality productive forces and opening up new areas and new arenas. 

Moreover, talent cultivation for the sake of developing new quality productive forces demands a compatible teaching system to meet society’s requirement for talent qualities and personnel’s expectation for social development in a bidirectional manner. Higher education should carry out the fundamental task of fostering virtue through education, strengthen the organic synergy among education, science and technology, and personnel training, and deepen demand-side reforms to talent cultivation for basic research, applied engineering, and leading-edge innovation. Attention should be paid to comprehensively reinforcing the construction of a system for quality education and teaching resources, further digitalizing education, and encouraging reforms to the model in which science and technology empower education. 

Evaluation criteria should be set and tied closely to technological development trends and national strategic layouts, to build an innovative system that incorporates key elements including basic research, technological breakthroughs, result transformation, talent support, and financial technology. Furthermore, the rewarding interaction among education, personnel training, science and technology, industries, and regions should be deepened to integrate the talent chain with innovation, industrial, and capital chains, and enhance the combined effect of education, teaching, and talent cultivation, in order to provide a steady stream of intellectual power for accelerating the development of new quality productive forces. 

Sci-tech innovation is the core element for developing new quality productive forces, and also a critical link for improving the quality of talent cultivation. Institutions of higher learning, as the major force driving basic research, the hotbed of breakthroughs to core technologies, and the frontline for talent cultivation, need to intensify the construction of an excellence-oriented, organized research system and mechanism. 

Based on continued high-level, liberal academic explorations, importance should be attached to quickening reforms to research paradigms and organizational models, and actively mulling scientific research management approaches tailored to organized research paradigm reforms. While strengthening macro-level coordination, it is important to implement reforms to streamline administration and delegate powers, improve regulation, and upgrade services, and closely align with requirements of national strategies and regional development to translate research outcomes into productive forces that benefit the economy and society. Additionally, the true innovation level of research outcomes should be tested in market competition, so as to generate robust innovation momentum for achieving greater self-reliance and strength in science and technology and accelerate the building of world hubs for talent and innovation. 

Serving national strategies

The report to the 20th CPC National Congress noted for the first time that education, science and technology, and human resources are the foundational and strategic pillars for building a modern socialist country in all respects. Educational progress relies on colleges and universities, sci-tech innovation hinges on industries, and the development of high-end, precision, and sophisticated industries depends on regions. Colleges and universities should continuously release talent dividends amid the interwoven evolution of national strategies and regional development, breaking new ground in their synergy with industries and regions to lend systematic support for the high-quality development of new quality productive forces. 

Constructing a strong educational system takes the strategic lead in the cause of building a modern socialist country in all respects and provides important backing for achieving greater self-reliance and strength in science and technology. Institutions of higher learning should firmly adhere to the education-first principle and give priority to expediting the building of world-class universities and advantaged disciplines with Chinese characteristics, to continually inject educational power into the development of new quality productive forces. 

First, emphasis should be placed on science and technology as the core to bolster great self-reliance and strength in science and technology. Sci-tech innovation holds the key to overall development. In a seminar on the full revitalization of China’s northeastern region, General Secretary Xi Jinping stressed the importance of fostering emerging strategic industries, including new energy, new materials, advanced manufacturing, and electronic information, and nurturing industries of the future, in a bid to accelerate the formation of new quality productive forces and create new growth impetus. In response to calls for the development of new quality productive forces, like emerging industries and future-oriented industries, colleges and universities should take the initiative to shoulder the responsibility for translating their innovative research capabilities into capacities for developing sci-tech industries. 

Second, innovation-driven development is essentially talent-driven development. The cultivation of top-notch creative talent offers fundamental guarantees for the sustainable development of new quality productive forces. It is crucial not only to gather talent from all over the country and the world, but also to create an environment in which talent is recognized, respected, and well-employed, and to build and improve an educational system dedicated to independent talent cultivation. As the leading force of higher education, colleges and universities should organically combine talent cultivation, introduction, and employment to realize the linkage and integration of all areas within talent-related work, building a loyal, competent workforce out of top-notch innovative talent. 

Third, strengthening regional coordination can provide synergy for new quality productive forces to develop a community comprised of universities, industries, and regions. In light of multiple national strategies, the key to resolving the principal problem of unbalanced and inadequate development lies in building the “university-industry-region” development community. To fully leverage the unique advantages of colleges and universities, agglomerate strategic emerging industries and future-oriented industries, and push for coordinated and innovative regional development, it is vital to clarify the practical and theoretical logic of building the university-industry-region development community. 

Mao Junfa is an academician at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, president of Shenzhen University, and dean of the Institute of New Quality Productive Forces at Shenzhen University.