Monash University
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Public education reform and network governance: a case study of Chinese railway state-owned enterprise schools

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posted on 2017-02-23, 03:25 authored by Chan, Wing Keung
Public education systems that developed through the 19th and 20th centuries in the West are changing as national governments implement lifelong learning reforms to address imperatives associated with globalisation. There is a substantial education literature on the trajectory of public education reform, which documents the way modes of governing are shifting from bureaucracies to markets and networks. The character of public education reform in China is less well known and often associated with strongly centralised bureaucratic government. Yet since 1949 there has been significant reform in Chinese education and the role of hierarchy and market governance in enabling education reform in China is well documented in the education literature. However, the significance of network governance in Chinese education has been, to date, less well documented. Through this project, I sought to understand the trajectory of past and future development of public school reform in China. This thesis draws on theories of ‘network governance’ to analyse a case study of policy implementation aimed at reforming Chinese public education. The thesis reports on a case study of public school reform in China. It documents the reform of one type of school, State-owned Enterprise schools as a consequence of the Chinese government’s implementation of the Modern Enterprise System. This policy reform disconnected schooling functions previously associated with State-owned Enterprises (SOEs) and relocated them to the Ministry of Education in order to rectify heavy reductions in profit in SOEs. I focus specifically on the railway State-owned Enterprise schools in Harbin, the capital and largest city of Heilongjiang Province in Northeast China and in Shenzhen, the most economically prosperous city in Southern China in terms of per capita income. Using document analysis and interviews, I document: 1. The trajectory of SOE reform and its implications for the provision of education through SOE schools. I argue that SOE education has been an important component in Chinese education, organising public education provision by establishing a diversified range of state-owned enterprise schools from childcare centres to higher education, across China. These SOE schools provided public education because they functioned primarily as socio-economic units rather than as purely production units (Chapter 5: The Trajectory of State-owned Enterprises Education). 2. The process of policy implementation that accompanied the implementation of the Modern Enterprise System. I show how top-down policy is implemented from central government to ministry level, to province level, to municipal city level and finally to the district level. Networks support negotiation and bargaining at the district level, which influence the education policy of the central government. These intersecting policy implementation processes show how the centralised Modern Enterprise System policy proposal is coordinated through actions and resource transactions between actors at different levels of government, ministries, schools, principals and teachers (Chapter 6: Modes of Governance in SOE Schooling). 3. The kind of resources that are transacted between key actors associated with the state-owned enterprise schools in the process of policy implementation. I argue that resource exchanges between actors that are networked by the state-owned enterprise schools make a significant and positive contribution to the policy implementation process, which relocated schooling functions from the SOEs to the Ministry of Education (MOE). I argue that network governance permits the exchange of resources that are differentially valued by different actors, which allows for the negotiation of win-win outcomes by transacting differently valued ‘goods’ in the process of negotiating agreements about governing (Chapter 7: Policy Implementation through the Transaction of Differentially Valued Resources). This thesis argues that the processes of formulating and implementing Chinese education policy can be characterised as a form of network governance, which coordinates actors, decision-making processes, and stakeholders’ motivation to comply with collective decisions in Chinese education. The thesis argues network governance to be an effective and legitimate way of problem solving that assists policy implementation and education reform in China.


Campus location


Principal supervisor

Terri Seddon

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre



Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type



Faculty of Education