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China's universities need tough guidelines to clarify and check decision-makers' powers, says an editorial in Nature.

A dispute — played out through online bulletin boards and blogs — between Peking University's Rao Yi, the first internationally recruited dean, and Cui Keming, a professor emeritus of plant biology, sparked the debate.

Cui tried to give his laboratory to his associate professor — a common practice in China — but Rao refused to acknowledge the transfer of authority and tried instead to cut the lab's size.

The editorial claims a lack of clear guidelines has pit new regulations against old customs. Rao argues against an "inbred academic system", while Cui accuses him of "belittling plant anatomy".

Rao is likely to win, says the editorial. But, it adds, China's universities need to ensure that in future, they set clear guidelines to consolidate and keep power in check; recruit beyond their borders; and keep decision-makers' actions transparent.

Link to full article in Nature