Removal of first charity-related major from Beijing Normal University sparks debate

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This June, the Zhuhai campus of Beijing Normal University (BNU) announced that the School of Education would no longer admit new students into its undergraduate programme on Charity Management. After eight years of experiments and attempts to bring the concept of charity management to the campus, the course has been removed from the list of programmes available in 2020.

The Zhuhai campus of BNU started its charity management programme in 2012, becoming the first university to set up a charity-related course in China. The duration of the course was only two years, as the second part of a four-year double major. It was designed for students with different majors to apply for the course based on what they had already learnt in their original degree, so they could obtain interdisciplinary knowledge, just as the non-profit sector requires. The course was placed in the School of Education partly because the campus was not able to register it as a full four-year undergraduate course with the Ministry of Education.

The news on the termination has upset many people, in particular the course’s alumni. It has also triggered a discussion within the nonprofit sector on whether charity-related major should be provided at the undergraduate level. In response to this question, a symposium was organised as part of Shenzhen University’s specialist class in Charity Innovation at the end of September, attended by academics from a dozen university which have also set up charity-related courses, and thirty experts from charitable organisations. As well as sharing their experiences, the attendees discussed the use of Chinese universities including charity-related courses in their undergraduate curricula.

A report from the Charity Times on the symposium summarises the points made during the discussion. The report points out that, in recent years, many higher education institutions in China have begun offering charity-related courses in their undergraduate curricula. However, most of them are so far taken as elective courses, second degrees and summer courses, and the total number is merely about fifteen. Only three universities – the Nanjing Tech University Pujiang campus, the Shandong Technology and Business University and the Beijing Society Administration Vocational Institute, have included charity-related courses as full-time undergraduate degrees or college certificate programmes.

The Nanjing Tech University’s Pujiang campus was the first higher education institution in China to successfully set up charity management as a four-year full-time undergraduate degree in 2014. There are now 365 students in the programme. As explained by Mr. Xie Jiachen, Director of the School of Charity Management in the aforementioned university, modules in the programme are designed according to the needs of the non-profit sector, with subjects such as project design and management, fundraising and organisation development as the core modules. The programme also requires students to intern with foundations, social enterprises and NGOs in their summer and winter breaks, and manage the charity shop on campus when they are in their third year. In the final year, the dissertations they write have to be related to their internship experience in charitable organisations. It is estimated that 60% of graduates in the class of 2014 chose to work in charitable organisations, and 50% of graduates in the class of 2015.

The Shenzhen University’s specialist class on Charity Innovation is another example of a Chinese university pushing for the development of charity-related courses on campus. Unlike the arrangement in the Nanjing Tech University, in this case the class is part of a double-degree programme, meaning that students from the School of Management can choose to attend the Charity Innovation class as their minor degree and gain a double-degree in Management and Charity Innovation. Since the programme was founded in 2015, there have been more than 180 graduates. Students are learning knowledge and skills in both management-related modules, such as marketing, brand management and project management, and charity-related modules such as non-profit organisation management, social entrepreneurship and corporate social responsibilities. In addition, they engage with various charitable events on campus and they are encouraged to discover real-life problems outside of campus and find solutions.

However, a discouraging fact about the Charity Innovation course is that 63% of its graduates are working in jobs that have almost no connection with the charity sector. 33% of the graduates work in jobs that have some connection with the charity sector, and only 4% of them are working full-time for charitable organisations. In terms of income, 32% of the Charity Innovation class graduates have an annual income between 100 and 150,000 RMB (14,932.73 USD – 22,399.10 USD), and 19% of them have an income between 200 and 300,000 RMB, 18% of them have chosen to continue their studies and merely 2% of the graduates are receiving an income between 300,000 and 500,000 RMB.

“The dilemma of the lack of young talents in the Chinese charity sector cannot simply be explained by looking at higher education, what charitable organisations can offer our graduates is another crucial factor that we need to reflect on”, said Luo Wen’en, Associate Professor in the School of Management in Shenzhen University, and also the founder of the Charity Innovation class in the university. Professor Li Jian from the School of Management of Minzu University told the Charity Times reporter that it is necessary for universities to cultivate young, creative talents for the charity sector in China. There are now more than six million people who work for the Chinese charity sector, but the labour gap between supply and demand is about 40 to 50,000 people, and it needs to be bridged with urgency. Besides, the structure and management of charitable organisations are different from what you would find in the government and enterprises, students who plan to work for the charity sector need to grasp the uniqueness of charitable organisations and higher education institutions are ideal places for them to gain that knowledge.

Huang Haoming, Vice President of the China Global Philanthropy Institute (CGPI) shares the same view as Professor Li Jian. Huang strongly advocates setting up charity-related programmes for undergraduates. Including charity-related course in undergraduate majors is a trend, argued Huang, and it is also an indication of China’s soft power as the country tries to cultivate young talents who are passionate about the non-profit sector. Zhu Jian’gang, an academic from the School of Zhou En’lai Government Management in Nankai University, expressed the view that education for the charity sector can be embedded within the general education system. He also emphasises that paying too much attention to employability might not be helpful. “What we are going to do is to sow the seeds of charity into our students’ heart, and when the time has come, the seeds will grow and contribute their efforts”, says Zhu.

When it comes to the future of charity-related programmes and degrees in China, the experts agreed that the process would demand time, energy and patience. Li Jian claimed that education on charity for the young generation has to be pertinent to the stage of development of the charity sector. “It has to be explored step by step, instead of rushing to set and try to achieve unrealistic goals”, he maintained. He also stressed that charity-related programmes need to focus on the students’ experience and teaching resources, and the challenge for teachers is to promote these programmes to a wider public and encourage more social actors to get engaged.

Huang Haoming pointed out that charity is distinguished from business, because charity-related programmes aim to cultivate people who would selflessly contribute to the society. He also argued that charitable organisations need to go through reforms, so that organisations can become competent and socially valuable. The education in the concept of charity should be absorbed by the national education system, so that the sense of social responsibility of the public can be raised.