By Peh Shing Huei, China Bureau Chief
BEIJING: Nine of China's top universities have banded together to form the country's version of the American Ivy League.
Calling themselves the C9 alliance, the nine institutions will recognise each other's course credits, share resources and allow students to attend courses in each other's campuses, state media reported yesterday.
Led by the likes of world-famous Beijing University (Beida), Qinghua University and Fudan University, the grouping - which has already been tagged by the media as the 'Chinese Ivy League' - will also encourage students to pursue graduate studies in colleges within the alliance.
Scholars believe the league will raise standards across the campuses and give a boost to the prestige and international standing of its members.
Membership of the alliance means it is easier now for all nine to distinguish themselves as the premier education venues in China.
One of the nine, Zhejiang University in Hangzhou city, for instance, may not have the instant name recognition of Beida, but it has solid credentials in the sciences and engineering.
Founded in 1897, it is also one of China's oldest universities and counts Chinese Communist Party co-founder Chen Duxiu among its alumni.
It has been third in widely cited China University Review rankings in the last seven years, behind Qinghua and Beijing.
Beijing University masters student Jin Jianbao, 24, who did his undergraduate degree at Zhejiang University, says the league would give due recognition to lesser known but highly-regarded institutions.
'In China, the impression among most people is that Beida-Qinghua are the top universities,' he told The Straits Times.
'All other universities, no matter how good they might be in certain areas, are considered second-tier. Zhejiang University, for instance, is actually ranked No.1 in some fields, such as chemical engineering. This grouping will raise the status of top universities other than Beida-Qinghua.'
Shanghai Jiaotong University president Zhang Jie, whose school is among the C9, said he expects the exchange programmes to push each school to do better in order to ensure its classes are the best among the grouping.
Professor Zhang stressed that the C9 is not a copycat of the Ivy League, a grouping of eight American universities, like Harvard, Princeton and Yale.
'Just as the Chinese economy has devised its own path, China's universities will have their own unique characteristics,' he said, without elaborating.
But critics say more could be done to encourage flexibility and diversity within the league.
A commentary from The Global Times noted yesterday that up to 80per cent of college courses in China generally are designated as compulsory, compared to 40per cent overseas.
'Since students can't choose courses freely in their own campus, how will the cross-university course sharing work?' it said.
Professor Xiong Bingqi, of the privately-owned 21st Century Education Research Institute, said that students from the Chinese Ivy League may not be keen to take part in courses within the alliance, as standards in the C9 colleges are similar.
'It is the students from less well-known universities who would be keen to take classes in the C9 schools,' he said. 'Those from C9 would probably prefer to take some courses in the United States or Hong Kong.'
Additional reporting by Carol Feng
This article was first published in The Straits Times.