Few Chinese universities offer philanthropy courses. That’s changing.

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  • Few Chinese universities offer philanthropy courses. That’s changing.

The first batch of freshmen at Shandong Technology and Business University have now been studying its new philanthropy major for over two months. Yet few people outside the voluntary sector have been paying attention to the progress of their course, and even fewer people in China really understand what philanthropic education is.

Only a handful of Chinese universities including Shandong Technology and Business University, Zhejiang Gongshang University and Beijing Normal University currently offer courses or majors in philanthropic studies for undergraduate students.

Jin Jinping, professor at Peking University Law School, believes that public welfare and philanthropic education, which helps cultivate students to be better people, should serve as a foundation of higher education and perhaps even basic education.

In recent years, more and more universities have begun to consider offering philanthropic courses to students. At present, a diversified education system with different universities offers courses at undergraduate and postgraduate levels. For example, Tsinghua University plans to start recruiting PhD candidates interested in philanthropic studies from next year.

Judging from the curriculum content of the courses, there are currently three main models for delivering philanthropic education, according to Xu Jialiang, professor at the School of International and Public Affairs of Shanghai Jiao Tong University (SJTU) and dean of SJTU’s Institute for Philanthropy Development. The first is the development of professional courses for junior college students; for example, the Beijing Society Administration Vocational Institute, under the supervision of the Ministry of Civil Affairs, has been accepting about 100 students a year on its public welfare and charity management major for several years, with most of the students expected to eventually find employment as community workers. The second are joint courses offered with related majors for college students. For example, Nanjing Tech University and Shandong Technology and Business University have both set up philanthropic courses under the category of related majors. The third way is to develop independent philanthropic courses for students at all levels. This is currently the most common method Chinese colleges and universities have adopted, and these courses are mostly an option for students studying majors like administrative management and public management.

The most notable shared feature among these courses is their interdisciplinary nature, Xu said. In addition to lectures by professors of political science and public management, they also usually feature lectures by academics in the fields of sociology, economics, and law. Some courses aim to teach a specific aspect of the charity sector, while others talk about its broader significance. The cooperation between foundations and universities in philanthropic education is also one of the trends that cannot be ignored: Beijing Normal University has partnered with Shanghai Soong Ching Ling Foundation, and Nanjing Tech University with the Huaxia Foundation, to support the development of general higher education philanthropic courses and promote the development of this discipline both internally and externally.

Even though the development of philanthropic education in China is still in its early stages, the discipline entered a period of accelerated development in 2019. Lan Yuxin, associate professor at the School of Public Administration of Tsinghua University, pointed out that the government has started to systematically promote professional education and general education around public welfare and philanthropy, and it’s paying more attention to the training of professionals for careers in the third sector.

Xu Yongguang, chairman of Narada Foundation for Public Welfare, believes that equipping people with professional skills is the most important step. The balance between discipline development and training, the employment rate of graduates, and adequate financial support are all things that must be considered, he said.

Going forward, general education, professional education and vocational education are all expected to be essential methods for further developing philanthropic courses in the country’s higher education institutions.

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