The ruling Chinese Communist Party has launched a new wave of political training for colleges and universities that aims to instill the ideology of President Xi Jinping and late supreme leader Mao Zedong in staff and students alike.
The Ministry of Education released on Monday a five-year training plan for teachers via a series of "political theory" courses in colleges and universities.
According to the ministry, "it is necessary to train dozens of ideological and political scholars with extensive influence ... as well as hundreds of leaders in ideological and political education."
Former Guizhou University professor Yang Shaozheng, who was fired outright after he made comments critical of the Communist Party in an online article, said the plan is essentially part of an attempt to step up the "brainwashing" of Chinese students.
"I think this is problematic," Yang told RFA. "The students already have the desire for independent thought, and a critical faculty."
He said the move would result in an education system that wasn't fit for purpose.
"How can you replace their own thinking with party ideology?" he said. "Will the students be allowed to move beyond this framework set by the party? You only have to take one look at the sons and daughters of high-ranking officials to see that they have all left the country."
"If our education system was that great, why are they sending their kids off to study abroad?" Yang said. "Why not give them the opportunity to experience an education here in China?"
Under the plan, thousands of teachers and professors will study the classics of Marxism alongside the Thought of Xi Jinping, Mao Zedong and late supreme leader Deng Xiaoping.
The results of their theoretical research should then be integrated into their teaching materials, the ministry said.
All colleges and universities will be required to send at least two qualified teachers to participate in the program, achieving full coverage of all Chinese tertiary institutions within five years, it said.
The plan also calls on colleges and universities to collaborate with each other to deliver ideological training, train ideological teachers and join forces on research projects.
Macau University lecturer Choi Chi U said it is significant that the plan is being released ahead of the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre in June.
"On the eve of the 30th anniversary, they want to bring in a new, high-pressure system to control and inculcate with political education," Choi said. "They want to make sure that the obedient students remain obedient, and that the disobedient ones will be frightened into obedience."
"Actually, these methods are an attack on the whole of society, to ensure the stability of their regime," Choi said. "All they can do is continue to maintain stability, and prevent the spread of ideas such as freedom and democracy."
An official who answered the phone at the Ministry of Education on Tuesday declined to comment.
"You need to call [this number]," the officer said. However, repeated calls to the number resulted in a busy signal during office hours.
Authorities in China are also stepping up monitoring of staff and students at the country's higher education institutions through the use of personal data, surveillance cameras in classrooms, and student informants who are the ruling party's eyes and ears on the ground.
Student informants are continually being recruited at China's universities and typically report back to the authorities around once every two weeks, according to online documents seen by RFA last month.
Meanwhile, students are reporting growing requests from college authorities for their personal data, including private and public social media accounts on platforms like WeChat and QQ.
Reported by Wong Lok-to for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.