undergraduate research dilemma in China | Times Higher Education (THE)

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At a time when undergraduate research in China is seen as a way to develop much-needed future scholars, its growth has hit a wall, scholars warn.

In recent years, undergraduate research – in which students pursue their undergraduate work on academic papers – has received a substantial boost from the Chinese government, as Beijing seeks to bolster its talent pool in national research amid geopolitical tensions. But his efforts to boost student participation can go no further.

“It’s a dilemma for China. On the one hand, it has a very large population of undergraduate students – at the same time, the resources that can be offered by the government are very limited,” Hongbiao Yin said. , co-author of a recent paper on the issue and chair of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

The dilemma comes in a geopolitical climate that has made undergraduate research “particularly important” to the country, he said. Times Higher Education.

“The international environment for China is not as favorable as it has been in recent years,” Professor Yin continued. “Many countries have just closed the door to China. They don’t want to export their advanced technologies to China…so we have to rely on ourselves.

For students, getting involved in academic work early offers clear benefits, namely “the opportunity to deal with uncertainties and to think critically and creatively” – something that is a “survival skill in life”. future society,” he said, adding that “traditionally, higher education in China has focused too much on students’ passive learning, but that should be changed.”

Beijing has made notable attempts to address the issue, Professor Yin said.

Since 2012, when the government launched a new state-led scheme to promote undergraduate research, Beijing has invested RMB3.7bn (£457m) in it, with programs at a third of universities Chinese. But in a country with the largest higher education system in the world, that’s only a small fraction of its millions of undergraduate students.

Although there have been remarkable efforts to involve undergraduate students in research, these have been limited to top institutions such as Tsinghua University and Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University, writes the professor Yin and his co-author, Lian Shi, a doctoral student at CUHK.

“Only some of the best Chinese universities have created their own [undergraduate research] projects that are not parallel to government projects [National College Student Innovation and Entrepreneurship Training Programme],” they write.

If the practice is to become widespread, the government should take “further steps…to grant Chinese HEIs greater autonomy in the design [undergraduate research] programs consistent with their own academic characteristics,” say the researchers.

For their part, universities must not only provide facilities such as laboratories, but also ensure that there are enough qualified professors to supervise students, according to Professor Yin. Since many undergraduates need guidance on such projects, their professors should “perform interim evaluations and provide feedback at regular intervals,” he said.

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