Jie Zhang rightly points out that China's universities need high-quality faculty members if they are to be competitive internationally (Nature 514, 295–296, 2014). But there are risks in giving individual colleges and departments more autonomy in recruiting staff.

Excessive recruitment has led to bloating and inefficiency in some Chinese universities, which might be exacerbated by greater autonomy. More recruiting freedom could also encourage cronyism, which already undermines research and higher education in China (see, for example, go.nature.com/vl4rxt; in Chinese).

To avoid these pitfalls and to ensure the quality and diversity of new faculty members, university panels should appoint the strongest academic performers from a shortlist drawn up by departmental recruiting panels in an open and transparent process.