LHASA, July 18 (Xinhua) -- The government is planning to raise the higher education gross enrollment rate in southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region to 30 percent in less than five years, meaning that three out of every 10 Tibetan students will enter college by 2015, local officials said Monday as Vice President Xi Jinping inspected Tibet University.
Tibet's current gross enrollment rate stands at 23.4 percent, slightly lower than the national average of 26.5 percent, Song Heping, head of the regional government's education department.
The government has earmarked 3 billion yuan (461.5 million U.S. dollars) for boosting enrollment and development in all six of Tibet's higher education institutes between 2011 and 2015, Song said.
One-third of the funds will be invested in infrastructure, while the rest will be used to improve the quality of teaching and academic research in the six institutions.
More than 31,000 students, mostly ethnic Tibetans, currently study in Tibet's six universities and junior colleges. Of them, 718 are pursuing post-graduate degrees. In addition, many students from Tibet are studying in universities outside the region, officials said.
The figures, though not impressive compared with other parts of China, are remarkable for Tibet, a region that did not have a modern school before being peacefully liberated in 1951. Education at that time was taken care of by monasteries and aristocrats, with very limited educational access given to the ordinary people.
Between 1951 and 2010, the central government spent 40.73 billion yuan to build educational facilities in Tibet. The region's illiteracy rate for young and middle-aged people has fallen from 95 percent to 1.2 percent over the last six decades, according to a white paper issued by the State Council Information Office in July.
While the government's main focus has been placed on primary and secondary education in the past, higher education is about to receive a major boost.
The government will help Tibet University, the region's top university, to grow into an internationally-recognized university, officials said.
"The school is not yet a leading university in China, but is becoming one," said Professor Tubdain Kaizhub, head of the university's economics and management department. "The school's developmental momentum is so strong that we often feel great pressure," he added.
The professor, who has been working at the university since 1985, described the changes that have taken place in Tibetan higher education over the past two decades as "tremendous."
He said that when the university's economics and management department was founded in 1987, there were fewer than 100 students enrolled in the department, and only ten teachers available to instruct them. Today, the department has over 800 students.
Born into a Tibetan family in the regional capital of Lhasa, Tubdain Kaizhub said his personal story of growth is an example of how ordinary Tibetans have benefited from the government's efforts to boost education in the region.
Tibet's first modern primary school opened in Lhasa in 1952; the first secondary school opened four years later with significant government investment. In the 1970s, Tubdain Kaizhub attended a county-level high school near Lhasa, where courses were mainly taught in Tibetan. He managed to pick up Mandarin Chinese, the most widely-used language in China, from his neighbors in a military compound.
Tubdain Kaizhub later entered the Tibet Institute of Nationalities. The school was originally part of Tibet's first higher education institute, the Tibet Public School. It was built in the city of Xi'an in northwest China's Shaanxi Province in 1958.
In 1983, Tubdain Kaizhub studied education management at the Southwest Normal University in the city of Chongqing. Upon graduation, he decided to return to Tibet and take a teaching job at Tibet University.
"I gave away opportunities to work in Chongqing or Beijing, because I want to return," the professor said. "I just missed my family and my hometown."
Two decades later, many college-educated Tibetans still choose to follow Tubdain Kaizhub's path, seeking jobs and settling down in Tibet. Many of them end up working for the government or government-affiliated agencies. An increase in the quality of the local workforce is now seen as a key factor in driving Tibet's future development.
Tubdain Kaizhub said that he has submitted numerous policy recommendations to the government over the years, ranging from the preservation of the old Lhasa city to the creation of tourist police officers. Many have been adopted, as authorities in the region often heed advice from local academics, Tubdain Kaizhub said.
"The biggest satisfaction for me is to see my advice being taken seriously, and to see measures being adopted to solve problems in Tibet's development," he said.
Tubdain Kaizhub is not alone in this quest. Techno-savvy Tibetan researchers led by 47-year-old Professor Nyma Tashi at Tibet University have developed a word processing system for the Tibetan script, which has enabled ethnic Tibetans who know little Mandarin Chinese to communicate with each other in Tibetanthrough mobile phone texts and on the Internet.
Nyma Tashi's team is now working on a massive database to store historic records and documents written in Tibetan.
Cogya Wangmu, 39, is one of the region's leading seismologists. Born to an ordinary family in Tibet's Nagqu Prefecture, Cogya Wangmu studied her way into Shaanxi Normal University. As a professor at Tibet University in 1999, she got an opportunity to pursue a master's degree in seismology at the University of Bergen in Norway.
Returning home after completing her studies, Cogya Wangmu now chairs a project that will update a database for seismological activity in and around Lhasa.
The stories of these top local academics have inspired many Tibetan students to follow suit.
Government statistics show that certified skilled technicians and people holding a bachelor's degree or higher now account for 13.9 percent of the 273,000-strong Tibetan workforce.
"As Tibet is in its prime time for development, I am confident that the demand for a college-educated workforce will keep growing," Tubdain Kaizhub said.
VISIT OF VICE PRESIDENT
Vice President Xi Jinping on Monday visited Tibet University, where he examined the science research labs and interacted with students, urging them to study hard and help boost ethnic unity.
Xi, heading a 59-member central government delegation to attend celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of Tibet's peaceful liberation, visited the university's library where ancient religious literature is well preserved. He then walked into the school's Tibetan language information technology lab and listened to the briefing of research progress on digitalization of the Tibetan language.
Xi tried out an artificial intelligence pen that can read the Chinese translation when it scans Tibetan scripts and vice versa. He applauded the progress the university has made in teaching and research over the years. He said the university has educated a number of people who made key contributions to Tibet's development.
Xi urged students, many of whom are Tibetans, to study hard and make their own contribution to the course of ethnic unity and safeguarding national unification. He was pleased to learn that many students are willing to work in grassroots organizations after graduation and urged the students to work in the rural areas where college-educated talent is most urgently needed.