Undergraduate courses in China are known for their low standards


By Zhang Duanhong

Beijing, January 17 (www.sixthtone.com): The Chinese education system is well known for its extreme workloads and ruthless, test-centric approach to weeding out students. From primary school onwards, young Chinese find themselves caught in a fierce competition for a precious place in one of the best universities in the country.

Those who succeed are rewarded with what amounts to a vacation: Undergraduate programs in China are known for their low standards and easy coursework – and once you’re there, you’re virtually guaranteed to graduate.

However, the fat years may finally be over.

Last year, Chen Baosheng, the Chinese Minister of Education, proposed to end the paradigm of the “exhausting high school, carefree university”, in which university life is seen as a reward for making it through the rigors of the entrance exam to the country’s university, or gaokao.

In a speech, Chen called on universities across the country to push students by increasing workloads and standards.

This is a long overdue decision.

Although, overall, China has made considerable progress in improving its undergraduate education programs, there is still a significant quality gap between its higher education system and that of countries like the United States or the United Kingdom.

To close this gap, China needs to ask more of its students and universities. This means higher standards and stricter graduation requirements, as well as a better system for dealing with students who cannot pass the grade.

It might seem strange to complain, but the college graduation rate in China is too high.

Even at many of the country’s top schools, over 90 percent of students graduate on time, and at less selective institutions, the graduation rate often exceeds 95 percent. In other words, once a student is admitted to college, they can essentially stall until they graduate.

This is not the case elsewhere. Universities in the United States generally expect students to meet certain conditions and maintain an acceptable GPA to graduate. Those who cannot do so can be put on academic probation. American students also have the option of changing their specialization or even transferring to other schools – a rarity in China.

While this system is far from perfect, stricter requirements force students to continue working, while the ability to change lanes offers a respectable solution if the pressure of a given major becomes unbearable.

In China, on the other hand, once a student has passed the gaokao, their diploma is generally considered a fait accompli. University professors take an informal approach to teaching; students only study halfway; credits are distributed generously; And everybody is happy. It’s gotten to the point where students now expect their teachers to let them slack off – and they’ll complain about those who don’t.

Behind China’s strong test scores and astronomical graduation rates lies a system that is pushing teachers and schools to lower academic standards and requirements.

This naturally had an effect on the quality of education. While it’s difficult to prove causation, a 2015 study shows that Chinese students spend significantly less time studying outside of class than students at comparable universities elsewhere.

Students at Nanjing University, one of the best in China, spent about 50% less time studying outside of class than those at Seoul National University, for example, and about 34% less as students at the University of California at Berkeley.

In China, many critics blame the country’s supposedly hard-to-enter and exit university system for the overall low quality of national undergraduate programs. At this point, there is a broad academic and social consensus on the need to raise academic standards. It stands to reason that if a student is smart enough to take a test at a top university, they will be successful once there..

However, changing student attitudes will take time. The Chinese have long considered the gaokao as a rite of passage: a good score is supposed to be a barometer of future success, and it stands to reason that if a student is smart enough to take a test at a top university, they will pass once there . But the country’s testing-centric high schools don’t necessarily prepare students for a college learning environment, and the years of academic stress they are subjected to from an early age can cause them to lose interest in studying once they graduate. the pressure is released.

It can be difficult to get these students out of their dizziness. And while Chinese universities already have systems in place to kick underachieving students, the app is tricky. Indeed, once the students are expelled, their path to a university degree is functionally cut off, because their only option is to resume the gaokao. Meanwhile, other students – suddenly surrounded by equally capable peers and perhaps experiencing what it is like not to be the best for the first time in their lives – develop psychological problems. Concerned about exacerbating the situation, as well as maintaining security and stability on campus, universities generally prefer to pass underachieving students rather than risk an incident.

The problem is particularly acute in science and engineering courses. In some schools, the student failure rate in these programs can reach two-thirds. Theoretically, if a pupil fails enough lessons, his school can detain him or even expel him. While this is unfortunate, deportation is sometimes necessary, especially in life and death areas like engineering. Yet universities are still reluctant to expel anyone, and changing specializations is not as easy as in the United States, for example. Instead, many Chinese schools continue to retain students, leading to a situation like today, in which a significant number of engineering students at top schools like Tsinghua or Zhejiang University are fifth and sixth graders stuck unable to graduate.

Given the problems mentioned above, it is not enough for universities to simply impose strict academic standards or weed out students whose academic performance falls short – schools across the country need to start offering alternatives to students in the process. difficulty. Some schools have already started, which makes it easier for students to switch specializations if they find that they are not suitable for their original field of study, rather than expelling or passing them on.

Another option is to allow underperforming students to transfer to lower-level universities or university-run vocational programs, keeping them in the system without sacrificing academic standards. Last year, Huazhong University of Science and Technology announced that undergraduates who do not meet the requirements for an undergraduate degree will be allowed to move on to a shorter professional degree program. and less credit intensive. This system allows the school to ensure the quality of its undergraduate degrees while providing options for students who otherwise might not be able to successfully complete their undergraduate studies.

A university education is a unique opportunity, not one to be wasted. While it’s understandable that young Chinese people want to take a break from years of grueling classes, it still falls on universities across the country to provide their students with a decent undergraduate education.

Translator: Matt Turner; editors: Lu Hua and Kilian O’Donnell.

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