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Chinese universities refresh talent pool, serve national development with fresh majors

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Huang Zhenglai (2nd L), vice president of new rural development institute of Anhui Agricultural University teaches students measure wheat canopy at an agricultural experimental base in Hefei, east China's Anhui Province, March 26, 2023. (Xinhua/Zhang Duan)

China has approved and added 21 new categories of majors for undergraduate programs, as the country moves to restructure the composition of undergraduate majors to enable universities and colleges to better serve national strategies and regional economic, social and industrial development.

The new entries, released by the country’s education ministry, include 26 majors, covering biometrics, future robotics, education for children with autism, and barrier-free management, among others.

Officially included in the national list of majors for undergraduate programs in China, they are expected to bolster some key industries and cultivate talent in urgent need.

SERVING NATIONAL STRATEGY, INDUSTRIAL DEVELOPMENT

The quality and structure of majors at institutions of higher education, the incubator of talent, have direct bearings on supporting and serving economic and social development, observers said.

By 2025, China will optimize and adjust the composition of about 20 percent of the disciplines and majors at its higher education institutions, replacing outdated ones with new ones that keep abreast with new technologies, emerging sectors, and new business modes, according to a reform plan released earlier this month.

The Xizang Minzu University, for instance, added a new major in international journalism and communication.

“By setting up this major, we hope to foster more professionals in relevant fields who are able to tell the stories of Tibet well, and better present China’s stance and viewpoints to the world,” said Jin Shi, deputy head of the School of Journalism and Communication of the university.

Emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and big data were highlighted in the major adjustment, which experts said epitomized Chinese universities’ initiative to keep pace with the times and respond to the demands for economic and social development.

Among them is a new major called biological breeding science, which was set up out of an aspiration of “promoting the building of a nation with a strong breeding industry.”

“The new major incorporates multiple studies in crop science, husbandry, biologics, genetics, and information science. It will help tackle the bottleneck technical problems hindering China’s breeding industry and thus safeguard food security,” said Chai Yourong, a researcher at the College of Agronomy and Biotechnology of the Southwest University.

INCUBATING TALENT, MEETING SOCIAL DEMAND
Among the new entries, two majors have caught much attention upon their release, as they are about to benefit vulnerable groups and advance social welfare — the major of education for children with autism and the major of barrier-free management.

“The incidence rate of autism among children is prominently rising, leading to wide public concern for special education for this group,” said Li La, dean of the special education school of the Nanjing Normal University of Special Education, which applied to set up the major in July 2022 and was granted approval this year.

Li said that compared with rehabilitation, education is a better option for children with autism. However, there used to be no specific majors designed to cultivate professionals in this field before.
A report on autism education showed that in 2019, there were more than 10 million people with an autism spectrum disorder in China, among whom about 2 million were children aged under 12.
Now thanks to the new major, China will see fresh professionals flowing into the sector of special needs education. “Professional education services will to a great extent promote children’s development and ease parents’ burdens,” said Li.

A blogger known for autism-related topics named “Yaya Papa,” who has an autistic kid, shared that this major means a lot to China. “It can help popularize knowledge about autism in a more science-based way, build a diversified education system and standardize the rehabilitation training programs.”
The Nanjing-based normal university also applied and was approved to establish a barrier-free management major, aiming to serve the national strategy of improving barrier-free infrastructure.

Statistics show that China has more than 85 million people with disabilities and about 267 million seniors aged above 60.

A draft law on the construction of a barrier-free environment is on the table of national lawmakers for deliberation during the ongoing standing committee session of the National People’s Congress.

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