This paper focuses on the similarities and differences between Sinic and Anglo-American approaches to the role of higher education in generating public good and public goods and the nearest equivalents in China. The paper compares the two higher education systems in the light of their political and educational cultures (state, society, family, individual) and approaches to collectivism and individualism. The state in China is and always has been a comprehensive state, in contrast to the Anglo-American limited liberal state. In the Anglo-American countries economic policy has constructed a limited role for public goods so as to maximise the scope for the market economy. However, Anglo-American countries also practice a broader notion of ‘public’ based on communications and democratic inclusion in civil society and higher education is part of the civil order. China’s political culture embodies larger potentials for collective ties, shared goods and state intervention in higher education, and a lesser role for higher education in fostering civil society.
Since 1949 both party-state power and indigenous individualism have become enhanced in China, while Anglo-American higher education has moved towards a more exclusively individualised approach to outcomes. In part because of Chinese internationalisation strategies, there is closer convergence between China and Anglo-America in universities than in the configuration of society. This suggests a potential for future divergence in higher education.