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CCTV-9: China’s Social Policy Agenda

March 9, 2010

Last night, I was part of a special hour-long discussion on CCTV-9 about some on the key social issues being raised in this year’s National People’s Congress (NPC), which is underway this week.  There were two parts — I was a panelist in the second half.  You can watch the program here (or click the picture below).

The first half focused on social security and medical reform.  Although it gets off to a little bit of a slow start, the discussion on health care near the end is well worth watching.  I completely agree with Prof. Gordon Liu, a health care expert at Peking University, that the overprescription of drugs in order for hopsitals and doctors to generate income is a critical problem.  As at least one other panelist point out, the broader point is that while investing more money may be useful, money alone will accomplish little without changing the perverse incentives within China’s health care system.

I participated in the second half, which was focused on China’s education system.  In particular, we talked about whether it is time for China to abandon the hukou (household registration) system, which often limits the access of migrant workers and their children to education and other social services.  We also discussed the pros and cons of China’s national college examination system.  On the one hand, the exclusive focus on exam performance to determine college acceptance leads to a system where students are trained how to take tests, while ignoring other vital aspects of their education, such as critical or creative thinking, or leadership outside the classroom.  On the other hand, introducing the kind of subjective criteria used by Western universities to evaluate applicants would open the Chinese system to all kinds of corruption and abuse, and could very well undermine public confidence a one of the few institutions in Chinese society that is considered truly objective and merit-based.  This is going to present a tough dilemma for China, going forward.

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