The Program for Research on Private Higher Education
Dedicated to Building Knowledge about Private Higher Education around the World
PHE Dissertation 10

Institutional governance in the development of Chinese private universities: three cases study from Sichuan province


By Xu Liu

Thesis submitted to University College London for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.


This qualitative study investigates the form and features of institutional governance and the factors that shape governance in practice in private universities in China. A comparative case study approach is adopted, focusing on three private universities in the western province of Sichuan, each with differing institutional histories and forms of governance. It draws upon thematic analysis of extensive documentation relating to private higher education (HE) governance in China and data from in-depth interviews with 31 senior managers conducted across two phases of fieldwork. Building on an exploration of the growth of private universities in China over the last 20 years, this study examines the specific context in China, including the role of the Communist Party and how the University Communist Party Committee (UCPC) integrates with shareholders and senior managers to achieve its role. The analysis presented makes use of three theoretical models: principal-agent, stewardship and stakeholder. The case studies show that two distinct forms of institutional governance have developed namely the supervision form and the managerial form. While external policies provide an impetus for change for each university, how key actors in institutional governance understand these policies has significant effect on how the policies are implemented. This can result in change that can be viewed as either symbolic alteration or as operational change. The internal factors that act to shape institutional governance mainly relate to the different developmental stages of the private university, the characteristics of shareholders and senior managers, and the various ways the universities respond to the external policy.Based on the analysis of the data, a number of implications are proposed to improve the governance system of private universities. These include strengthening the professionalism of the Council and Executive Team, improving the implementation of the University Constitution and the role of UCPC, and having a clear mechanism of monitoring and authorization between the government and private universities. This study fills a gap in the study of the governance of Chinese private universities in English and enriches the empirical study of the governance of private universities worldwide. As such it provides insight into practice in China for policy makers, senior managers and academics in the field of governance of private universities.

Date Published:
Sep 2017
Xu Liu
Xu Liu