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Pilot project: a decade on

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Peking University, Sept. 15, 2011: “Happy Birthday, Yuanpei!” Since the establishment of the Committee of Yuanpei Program of PKU in September, 2001, Yuanpei Program has been growing up step by step, reaching 10 years old this September. Banners have been put up on the campus and a series of events for celebration are underway.


At 3:30 p.m. yesterday, the opening ceremony of the celebration for the 10th anniversary of Yuanpei Program and the forum on undergraduate education reform took place in Sunshine Hall, Yingjie Overseas Exchange Center. Leaders from PKU and Ministry of Education, colleagues from other universities, reporters from major media, and representatives of donators, alumni, tutors, teachers and students of Yuanpei College were all present to celebrate its birthday together and discuss how to create a more brilliant future for both Yuanpei College and undergraduate education in China.


At the scene of the opening ceremony  

In an effort to create a world-class university, PKU launched Yuanpei Program in 2001, aiming at better undergraduate education. It was named after one of PKU’s most revered presidents, Cai Yuanpei, who during his term, successfully reformed and modernized PKU's academic disciplines into a system of “humanities parallel with sciences followed by business, law and engineering”. Thanks to his effort, the academic atmosphere of PKU was boosted and thoughts freed. His principle of “freedom of thoughts, and an all-embracing attitude” (Sixiang ziyou, jianrong bingbao) now becomes the core values of PKU, which is also in tune with the spirit of Yuanpei Program. 81 students enrolled by PKU that year voluntarily entered this experimental class and became the first batch of students of Yuanpei Program.


The year of 2007 witnessed a milestone of undergraduate education reform of PKU: in September, Yuanpei College was established on the basis of the pilot program that was initially tentative, marking a whole new stage. Up till now, 963 students have graduated from Yuanpei Program, and in recent years, the number of new students enrolled by Yuanpei College is kept around 200.


The success of Yuanpei Program sets us thinking about how to build an education system that fosters talents of variable kinds and promotes the capacity of innovation, based on the experience over the past 10 years. Several invited speakers gave talks reflecting the 10 years’ hard work and delivering their outlooks of undergraduate education in the future.


A comprehensive review of Yuanpei College


Prof. Xu Chongren, Dean of Yuanpei College opened the speech by reviewing the history of Yuanpei Program before introducing several basic features of Yuanpei Approach. The college has implemented a package of policies under the sixteen-character principle of “strengthening fundamental studies, weakening inter-major exclusivity, instructing according to talent, and differentiating in line with academic fields,” such as free selection of major, tutorial system, flexible credit system with 3 to 6 years’ education span, mixed accommodation with full-length administration. Recently Yuanpei College has renovated the No. 36 Building into Yuanpei Building, intended to accommodate all Yuanpei Students at school for better communication and interaction within.


Prof. Xu went on to cite statistics to show that there is a fair distribution of majors chosen by Yuanpei students and Yuanpei Approach has an intrinsic advantage for inspiring creativity. In 2010, over 40% second-year students participated in undergraduate academic research, a boost of the figure 10% in 2003. Yuanpei College claimed the Challenge Cup for school academic research competition for 3 consecutive years between 2008 and 2010. What’s more, PKU teams had great achievements in iGEM competition over the past 4 years, two team leaders of which were from Yuanpei College (2010 and 2007).


With such an educational vision, Yuanpei College has been a source of qualified graduates, who impress schoolmates and professors in graduate studies over the years and are now more readily accepted by renowned universities the world over. In 2011, almost 50% graduated students successfully applied to study overseas, covering all Ivy League universities except Brown University. It’s noteworthy that the first 11 students of the college’s own major, politics-philosophy-economics (PPE), graduated in July this year, 8 of which chose to further study in PKU, Tsinghua University or top universities overseas and the rest obtained good jobs.


Prof. Xu further emphasized on the flexible education system of Yuanpei Approach, “The tolerance and flexibility of Yuanpei allows each individual to realize their special talents and ideals.” For instance, Jiang Rui, entering Yuanpei Program in 2004, who scored over 95 in all physics courses and achieved perfect scores in ten basic math courses, went on to study philosophy in graduate school of PKU in a sudden change of life interest, before eventually getting admitted by Stanford to pursue Doctor’s Degree in Engineering, thanks to a highly interesting and impressive academic background. Zhang Weijia ’11, with great enthusiasm in physics and earth science, had published about 8 SCI papers during 4 years in Yuanpei College. Other students, with great social responsibilities, took one year off either to assist teaching in less developed areas in the west of China such as Xin Jiang and Tibet, or to serve in the army. These are just a few cases where Yuanpei Approach helps facilitate students’ dreams.


Yuanpei Approach, aiming at cultivating future leaders and backbones in all trades, has been proved to be a successful and lively mode. Yet there’s still room for improvement since it’s an unprecedented measure in China’s reform of undergraduate education. Prof. Xu called for further supports and suggestions from colleagues and leaders, and expressed his appreciation for the hard work of students and teachers of Yuanpei College, assistance from leaders, tolerance from all other colleges and departments of PKU, funds from PKU and great support from all circles of the society.


Increasing support from the society


The healthy development of Yuanpei College also has much to do with generous donations from the society. One representative of donators presented a well-written piece of calligraphy to Yuanpei College, with Chinese characters “Yanyuan shishu zui yingcai” meaning “the poetry of the landscape and the academic atmosphere on PKU campus capture the hearts of the talented students.” He hoped that Yuanpei College can carry on the good work and strive to fulfill this great cause in education.


He Ziliang was also present with his wife, representing The S.H. Ho Foundation Limited, Hong Kong, which has long been contributing to the culture revival and high education in China. It sponsored the Ho Leung Ho Lee Foundation dated back to 1994, to reward excellent Chinese scholars in science and medical fields, a reward the host of the ceremony happened to win. It also donated one million RMB to Yuanpei College last September to set up “S.H. HO Library” in Yuanpei College Office Building and fund students exchange programs between Yuanpei College and the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CHK). He Ziliang spoke highly of the all-embracing attitude of Yuanpei College and hoped to make joint effort to improve undergraduate education in China.


It’s noteworthy that yesterday was also He Ziliang’s birthday. He received warm applause and congratulations from the crowd when PKU president Zhou Qifeng revealed the “secret” and appreciated his celebrating his birthday with Yuanpei College.


Three valuable assets gained from Yuanpei


Six years have passed since the first batch of Yuanpei Students graduated from PKU. Many of the college’s alumni wish to be present celebrating its birthday yet they have to work or study, some even overseas. One of them, 05’s graduate Teng Qi, now HR of CITIC Group, was invited to talk about his reflections on being part of Yuanpei Program.


After expressing best wishes for Yuanpei College on behalf of his classmates, Teng Qi shared three valuable assets he gained from Yuanpei, judging from his own working experience.


“Firstly, Yuanpei teaches us how to choose and the importance of knowing ourselves. Every new comer of Yuanpei Program has experienced a period of confusion in face of a series of choices. Yet this better accommodates us to complex environment and fosters innovation spirit because we are required to make free and independent choices. We learned to follow our hearts and be persistent in following our goals. Though sometimes we made wrong choices, we discovered the true self within in the process. How to place ourselves and how to make choices are requisite lessons of life.”


“Secondly, Yuanpei gives us a comprehensive knowledge background and makes us competent in doing cross-disciplinary studies. Yuanpei Approach is highly farsighted since the trend for developing a talent is from a generalist to a specialist eventually to a more profound generalist. It’s like the shape of ‘T’, having both deep and wide knowledge. My classmates all feel that the general education which Yuanpei Program advocates reveal its value when we study or work in later days.”


“Thirdly, Yuanpei establishes us in a wide basis of society; that is, we have a wide range of connections since Yuanpei students, with different majors, live together, exchange thoughts and later work in trades of all kinds. Whenever we bump into a problem over our head, chances are we can always find some classmates who can help. Thanks to Yuanpei, we all keep our curiosity in different fields, which can be seen whenever we have a get-together. This builds up a bridge between the school and the society, for the graduates of Yuanpei can help younger disciples from other colleges and departments of PKU find jobs and adapt to society, and give feedbacks for better course construction in PKU.”


As a HR, Teng Qi truly felt that the meaning of Yuanpei Approach is beyond Peking University. “It helps cultivate talents for the strategies of China.” Last but not least, he expressed three sincere wishes: the students of Yuanpei College can strive for greater achievements; Yuanpei college can thrive and make greater contribution for undergraduate education reform; PKU can be pushed forward by students after students, realizing its dream of becoming a first-class university in the world.


On undergraduate education reform


Prof. Chen Shiyi, Dean, Graduate School of PKU, spoke highly of Yuanpei Program and its high quality students. Being a tutor for Yuanpei students since the very beginning, he has witnessed the joy of growing of Yuanpei College. He said he was glad to communicate with “the best students”: with solid basic knowledge and fairly built knowledge structures, able to do cross-disciplinary research, open to cultivate and highly motivated to delve deep independently etc. Yuanpei College provides its students with a tolerant environment to help foster comprehensive qualities. As Prof. Chen pointed out, “Yuanpei College is leading the undergraduate education reform in PKU, and its ultimate success lies in everyone sharing the same education principle. PKU always dares to go off the beaten track, and Yuanpei Program is sure to have a great influence.”


Afterwards, PKU President Zhou Qifeng concluded the ceremony by giving his thoughts on undergraduate education reform. He placed emphasis on the importance of general education, acknowledging it as the core measure of elevating the quality of high education centered on cultivating talents with comprehensive quality. As he pointed out, there are three key factors in high education: the course construction, the quality and morality of the teachers, good campus cultures.


Looking forward to future reform, President Zhou put forward four measures: to improve the quality of the talents by modifying the evaluation system for both teachers and students, increasing international academic exchanges etc.; to strengthen the management of teachers and academic ethics; to combine general education with individual development; to combine innovation with social practices. All these measures should be student-centered. He also reminded us of the difficulties ahead but called for confidence in fulfilling the task of building a world-class university with Chinese features.


Being part of the celebration


Many volunteers, all current Yuanpei students, have been working hard preparing for the opening ceremony and the upcoming events, together with Yuanpei teachers. During the ceremony, they were all dressed up in commemorative T-shirts of the 10th anniversary, welcoming guests, leading them to seats and handing out souvenirs. They were all excited being part of the celebration.


Chen Long, who just graduated from Yuanpei College this July, attended the ceremony as an alumnus. “I feel it a great honor to be able to be here at the opening ceremony. Putting on a commemorative T-shirt, I feel as if I have never left Yuanpei College. After the ceremony, I cannot help but clean the venue and move stuff back to the office together with volunteers. It makes me feel being part of the celebration, and I am truly happy.” Chen Long smiled.


Chen Long ‘11 takes a picture with a volunteer, dressed up in commemorative T-shirts.


Chen Long went on to express his affection for Yuanpei College: “My classmates and I witnessed Yuanpei Program developing from experimental class to college in 2007 when we were freshmen, which means we are the first students of Yuanpei College. I believe there will always be love for Yuanpei deep inside my heart, and it’s the same with all the other Yuanpei students. We have experienced difficult times but also witnessed its flourishing. The four years in Yuanpei College makes us special, and the assets we gained from Yuanpei will remain with us forever, together with our love for Yuanpei. I saw a saying on a banner for celebration, and it’s truly right: choose the Yuanpei you love, and love the Yuanpei you choose.’’


Upcoming Events:


1.  International Forum on Reform of Undergraduate Education System
Time: 8:30 a.m. to 17:15 p.m., Sept 15
Venue: Room 201, Yuanpei College (No. 5 Science Building, PKU)


2.  International Student Conference: Students from Yuanpei College, Yale University, Pitzer College and University of Seoul, Korea

Theme: Environmental protection policy and action, and science technique; Academic, media and public discourse; Social & Education Problem; Current economic situation.
Time: 9:15 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., Sept 15
Venue: Room 203, Yuanpei College (No. 5 Science Building, PKU)


3.  Forum of Alumni and the Founding Ceremony of Alumni Association of Yuanpei College
Time: early October, 2011 (TBD)


4.  Gala Night for the 10th Anniversary of Yuanpei Program
Time: 19:00 p.m., Sept 16
Venue: Multifunctional Hall in PKU Hall


Extend Reading:

People’s Daily's report on the 10th anniversary of Yuanpei Program



Reported by: Chen Long
Reference: Yuanpei College