Sunday, 23 December 2012

Damning Article on Sino-Foreign Cooperative Education

An article published last week blew the lid of the parlous state of international cooperative programmes in China, something which has been a running theme of this blog.

The article, entitled "Good Name, Poor Reputation: Sino-Foreign Cooperative Education become Sino-Foreign 'cooperative scam'?", was authored by the MoE's own Chinese Service Center for Scholarly Exchange (CSCSE) and published by, a major source of education news and info in China. Perhaps more interestingly, it was quickly reposted on various websites including a synopsis on the Ministry of Education's on World Education Information site (, a trusted source for parents and students searching for reliable information on overseas education.

The full article can be viewed here: (Chinese only).

President Xi Youmin of Xi'an Jiaotong Liverpool University (XJTLU) was cited in the article highlighting that 90% of these Sino-Foreign cooperative programmes were with 2nd and 3rd rate universities (二三流大学), an observation I am inclined to agree with. Mme Xu Yafen, Chairwoman of Zhejiang Wanli Education group and a major player in the establishment of the University of Nottingham Ningbo China (UNNC) was also quoted as bluntly saying she had been approached on numerous occasions by foreign education institutions offering to "sell" degrees in China with the cost of the degree generally around the US$10k mark.

That two such influential players in the "real" Sino-Foreign cooperative sector should speak so boldly and critically of the situation should be an indicator of the severity of the problem. Due diligence amongst foreign education providers in China is practically non-existent. It is incredibly rare to meet anyone from an overseas HE institution with a solid understanding of the regulatory framework governing academic qualifications in China and, perhaps more worriyng, of the regulations and policies concerning foreign education provision in China. That maybe due to language issues, or placing too much trust in partners, but knowing how compliance works in western organizations, it never fails to surprise me how westerners seem to jettison all good die diligence practice when blinded by the opportunity presented by the "Chinese market".

Interestingly, the article uses terminology to distinguish between what it calls "accredited programmes" and "Sino-Foreign cooperative education". The former, it claims, are not really cooperative programmes at all, but are merely preparatory courses for pursuing further study overseas. It is these types of programmes which are ubiquitous in China. Many foreign universities set up some form of accredited programme and call it a "branch campus". Nothing could be further from the truth and it is very clear that the ire of this report is directed at these types of poorly regulated programmes. We should also note that these "accredited" programmes, including International Foundation Years, Pathways, 2+2's, 1+3's, 3+1's and Pre-Masters invariably accept only students who have failed to gain a place at 4yr university through the National University Entrance Exam (Gaokao).

I personally find it alarming that so many universities, including very reputable universities in the UK, US and elsewhere, appear blissfully unaware (or wilfully ignorant) that the overwhelming majority of students they receive through these programmes are never actually enrolled in a Chinese university, but are recruited to private subsidiary training colleges owned by the Chinese university. Its somewhat akin to a Russell Group university establishing a private executive education company off-campus, charging 10 times the standard tuition fee for a bog standard Foundation programme, accepting UK high school leavers with two D's at A level, accepting them through applications which are not processed through the UCAS system, then sending them to complete their degree after a further 2 years at a prestigious US university. Those students would be accepted by the US institution because it is thought they are at a Russell Group university, when in fact they are not. They are not on campus, not taught by faculty, not even registered at the sending university. It is a con, albeit a very lucrative con.

"Sino-Foreign cooperation" on the other hand is different. It must be approved at the Ministerial level (MoE) and students must be recruited through the relevant universities application system at both UG and PG levels. The major names are the 8 JV universities currently licensed by the MoE, of which 3 are still in the process of being established and have not yet admitted any students:

1. University of Nottingham Ningbo China (Nottingham and Zhejiang Wanli)
2. Xi'an Jiaotong Liverpool University (Xi'an Jiaotong and Liverpool)
3. United International College, Zhuhai (Beijing Normal & HK Baptist)
4. Sino-British College, Shanghai (USST and 9 NCUK Universities)
5. Wenzhou Kean University (Wenzhou and Kean)
6. Duke Kunshan University, Kunshan, Jiangsu (Duke and Wuhan)*
7. NYU Shanghai (NYU and East China Normal)*
8. CUHK-Shenzhen (CUHK and Shenzhen Municipal Govt)*

In addition to these major joint-ventures, all legally independent from their parent universities and licensed to issue degrees by the Chinese government alongside issuing the foreign degree, their are Sino-Foreign joint programmes. Such examples include Monash-Dongnan, Fudan-LSE. These are generally Masters level programmes which involve 1 year at the Chinese institution and 1 year at the foreign institution. Graduates are awarded a dual degree, but all Chinese students admitted to such programmes MUST be admitted through the national masters application exam. The Sino-British College differs from UNNC, XJTLU and UIC in that it is an "embedded JV" and a college of USST. Thus it does not have full independent status and functions more like a multi-versity, offering degrees from a variety of partners. It also has perhaps the best location of any university in China, right in the middle of the French Concession in Shanghai, where it educates 2000 students with nearly 100% foreign teaching staff on a range of UK degree programmes.

This article is interesting for several reasons. Firstly, because of consistent indications of Chinese authorities' dissatisfaction with foreign education providers who focus on profit maximization through the exporting of Chinese students back to their home campuses on articulation courses, pathways, 2+2's etc.

Secondly, because it makes very clear and concise distinctions between aggressively marketed, sub-standard cash cow operations and the high-quality, genuinely cooperative ventures approved at the MoE level.

Thirdly, and most importantly, that it was written and disseminated by an organization closely affiliated with the MoE and which is itself responsible for the accreditation of foreign degrees in Mainland China (CSCSE).

Finally, an earlier post today highlighted the case of a student in Jiangsu successfully suing a Chinese university subsidiary college for issuing a degee which did not have the correct accreditation and approval (see below), and because the last week has seen an avalanche of reports focusing on Sino-Foreign education quality.

I have been predicting for some time on this blog that approval and accreditation will become a major issue if foreign education providers continue to fail in their due diligience and/or flaunt the very clear regulations governing academic education provision in China. Such media coverage leads me to believe that a clampdown (certainly on new applications) is very likely and that what we are seeing here is the mobilization of the official media sphere in highlighting the risks associated with under-the-radar programmes. It could very well signal the first volley fired in a protracted battle to bring unscrupulous and money-focused foreign education providers into line, and that includes a great majority of those foreign universities currently operating in China. There are many interested parties here, including the Chinese universities themselves who make significant amounts of revenue through such programmes, but if government agencies in charge of HE approval are publishing prominent articles warning of low-quality HE provision across the sector, then it is time for foreign education providers (universities) to really examine their China operations and ask what they have to lose.

Student Successfully Sues Alma Mater for Issuing Unapproved Sino-Foreign Degree.

Xinhua News this week reported the case of Ye Jun (pseudonym) who has successfully sued his alma mater in Jiangxi province, China.  Ye Jun recently completed his 3yr Sino-Foreign programme run at a subsidiary private college of Jiangxi Science and Technology Normal University (江西科技范学院).  The International College (教育学院) has a long standing partnership with Lambton College, Canada, offering Bachelors of Business Administration with Accounting.  Xinhua report that tuition stood at RMB42k with other associated costs bringing the total to RMB54,250 per annum. 

Ye Jun successfully graduated and was awarded his diploma from Lambton, but when applying for the Civil Service examinations, was advised that his degree certificate was invalid as the programme had not received approval.  Ye Jun was therefore unable to register his qualification with the Chinese Service Centre for Scholarly Exchange (CSCSE). 

The marketing materials offered students the opportunity to receive both a domestic and foreign diploma.  Yet in summation, the Nanchang court advised parents and students to check which programmes have been approved by visiting the MoE website and not to place total trust in the marketing materials of foreign education providers or institutions delivering foreign degrees in China.  Ye Jun brought claims against the International College of Jiangxi Science and Technology Normal University for well over RMB100k, but was awarded only RMB10000 in compensation. 

According to Xinhua, it was noted in the court reports that this was the first case in Jiangxi province where a student had brought litigation against a university for running unapproved programmes.  The defense revolved around several issues including that Lambton College is listed as a legitimate public university on the MoE website, and arguing somewhat confusingly that because the International College was not recruiting in-quota (Gaokao) students and no Chinese degree was awarded, no approval for the Sino-Foreign programme was required.   It was pointed out to the defense that, in fact, any programme enrolling Chinese students on the mainland and issuing academic qualifications must be approved by the MoE.  

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

The Daxue has moved to

The Daxue has moved to a new address. will be our new home.

Its been a quiet few months, but a great deal of new analysis will be following shortly.

Congratulations to President Obama on a second term. We will be watching the 18th Party Congress tomorrow to see how the new CCP Politburo Standing Committee. Will there be a seat for Liu Yandong. We all hope so at The Daxue, though recent reports suggest that a 7 seat PSC will not include Mme Liu.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Stern to Launch Masters Degree in NYU and Shanghai New York University?

I missed this last week. NYU are launching a new Masters in Business Analytics, which will be simultaneously launched at the new ShanghaiNew York University in Pudong, Shanghai. First intake is reported to be in May 2013, when the Shanghai NYU is also expected to take in 300 undergrade students in Sept 2013, comprised of a minimum of 51% students from Tier 1 of the Chinese Gaokao system.

I am skeptical. No Sino-JV university has thus far been granted permission to issue Master's degrees, with the exception of UNNC, which received approval in 2005.

Only the State Council has the authority to grant licences to offer degrees at Masters level and SHNYU has yet to even publicly state what its tuition fees will be. This indicates that specific licences for UG degree programmes have yet to be agreed and/or that the Shanghai pricing bureau, which will set fees, has yet to make a decision.

There still seems to be little appreciation of the HE Law of PRC and the 2003 Regulations governing Sino-Foreign Education in the PRC. Similarly, if past experiences are anything to go by, obtaining permission to launch Masters degrees prior to first establishing robust teaching and administrative practices at UG level, gaining approval from the State Council for Masters degrees is highly unlikely (though, this is China, so lets not allow precedents to have an undue influence on any expectations).

Similarly, recent announcements by the MoE insist that the Masters application system must be followed by all universities in China, including (as they are established under Chinese law) all Sino-Foreign JVs.

See two previous posts:



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Wednesday, 25 April 2012

MoE Announcements on SUSTC and HK Chinese University JV

Sina Weibo, the popular microblogging platform, has been ringing with the news that Professor Zhu Qingshi's South University of Science and Technology China (SUSTC) has been given MoE approval.

This is quite interesting for those watching international education in China, whether involved in int'l HE or simply looking at Chinese HE, reforms and policies. The main reason being that SUSTC is the first university established without foreign assistance to teach programmes in English and utlizing a student centred learning approach. A more in-depth bog post on SUSTC will follow.

A second piece of news which seems to have slipped under the radar is perhaps of more concern/interest to Sino-Foreign educators in China. This is the news that China's second PRC-HK Joint Venture University has been given the go ahead (the first is UIC, a JV between Beijing Normal and HK Baptist).

This second university will be a JV between Shenzhen University (PRC) and Chinese University of Hong Kong, a world-class university located in HK.

With new announcements concerning NYU Shanghai last week (see last post), this really ups the the pressure, as both universities will be opening their doors in 2013, with Duke Kunshan also expected to do the same. It remains to be seen whether the universities of NYU Shanghai, DKU and CUHK Shenzhen will be able to secure quota to recruit from outside their home provinces (respectively Shanghai, Jiangsu and Shenzhen), but launching three universities with high fees, in addition to the established competition from UNNC, XJTLU, SBC and UIC who already operate at or near full capacity.

CUHK Shenzhen could be a major headache for NYU Shanghai. While NYU Shanghai aims to recruit 1400-2500 students, CUHK Shenzhen has a stated first phase target of 7000 students, building to 11000 by the end of the 2nd phase (expected 5 year phases).

Also, CUHK Shenzhen fees are reportedly equivalent to those already approved for the other existing Sino-British JV universities of XJTLU, UNNC and SBC - 60kRMB per annum. This could prove a major headache for NYU and Duke who, it is rumoured, will be hoping to be able to charge significantly more.

Existing JV's, particularly XJTLU and UNNC, can still rest easy knowing that the full approval process can take months, if not years, to play out. Recruiting large numbers of students from across China is impossible without quotas negotiated through the provincial and municpal education bureaus. This should give the existing universities a minimum of 2-3 years to adapt to the incoming competition, though NYU, Duke and CUHK are all big-hitters. If they can make it work.


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Saturday, 14 April 2012

Shanghai New York University: How many Tigers on the Mountain?

Last week saw a raft of news stories covering developments at Shanghai New York University (上海纽约大学).  SHNYU have been going head to head with Duke University to become the first high-level US university to form a JV in China. Wenzhou University and  Kean University (New Jersey) announced in December 2011 that they had received approval from the MoE to establish a JV university in Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province, with alleged funding of $250m provided by the Wenzhou and Zhejiang governments.  Nevertheless, all eyes are really focused on the big hitters: NYU and Duke.  

Various sources, including news reports on CCTV (中央电视台), China's national broadcaster, covered some important announcements on key positions at SHNYU.  Shanghai New York University is established under the 2003 Regulations Sino-Foreign Cooperative School Management, and is a JV between New York University (USA) and East China Normal University  (华东师范大学), ranked by the Chinese Academy of Management Science as the 4th ranked university in Shanghai behind Fudan University, Shanghai Jiaotong University and Tongji University.  However, as those familiar with Chinese HE will know, China's universities are not easily compared.  ECNU is a leading "teachers" university and competes very strongly in education, humanities and the social sciences in China; is in the elite Project 985 group of universities, and is one of the the most competitive universities in China in terms of admissions standards.  

On the 4th April, Minister for Education Yang Guiren (杨贵仁) expressed his view that the MoE hopes SHNYU will become a leading example for other reforming institutions in China's vast HE system.  

Under Chinese HE Law, the President of SHNYU must be a Chinese citizen.  This position has been taken by President Yu Lizhong who is the current President of ECNU.  It is my understanding (from knowing the arrangements at other JV universities) that the President Li will continue as President of ECNU, with the Presidency of SHNYU being a largely ceremonial role involving duties on the Board of SHNYU (essentially equivalent to the role of Chancellor at a UK university)

It was reported in the China Youth Daily (青年日报) that Professor Jeffrey S. Lehman has been appointed Deputy President and CEO of SHNYU.  I believe this may be an error of translation.  Deputy President (副校长) is likely to be translated as "Vice-Chancellor" in English, removing any confusion as to the role Professor Lehman has been appointed to.  Vice-Chancellor is the typical title for the defacto President of universities in England.  Nevertheless, he should perhaps be referred to in Chinese as 执行校长 or Executive President, rather than 副校长 Deputy President, which does not accurately describe his role.  Perception is everything in China and 副校长 does not accurately capture the nature of his appointment.  Professor Lehman will be the defacto President (or Principal Administrator) appointed by the Board of SHNYU and responsible for the establishment and day-to-day operations of SHNYU.  Vice-Chancellor in English and 执行校长(Executive President) in Chinese would appear to be the most accurate terms for Lehman's role.  

Interestingly, Duke Kunshan University (DKU), the proposed JV between Duke University (US) and Wuhan University in the city of Kunshan, Jiangsu (on the border with Shanghai) have also elected to advertise for a "Vice-Chancellor".  I had expected that the title "Provost" would be used in both situations, given its common usage in US HE.  I had also speculated privately in conversations with some contacts that DKU would move for Professor Lehman, especially given the apparent good fit for the DKU Vice-Chancellor job decription.  It appears NYU got there first, and it is probably significantly to their advantage that they did so, given Lehman's US and China experience.  

Professor Lehman served as Dean of the University of Michigan Law School between 1994 and 2003, under then President Lee Bollinger (who, interestingly, as the current President of Columbia, recently dismissed the possibility of Columbia establishing a JV in China - possibly Nanjing - on the basis of concerns over academic freedom).  Professor Lehman then became the 11th President of Cornell University in 2003.  

In 2007 Professor Lehman became the founding Dean of the Peking University School of Transnational Law in Shenzhen (PKU-STL).  PKU-STL offers J.D. degree programmes to Chinese students and was attempting to be the first school in China (possibly outside the US - unable to confirm) to secure accreditation by the American Bar Association.  

Since his appointment as President of Cornell University, Professor Lehman has spoken often of his passion for transnational education.  Since leaving Cornell, he has certainly attempted to bring US style education to China, and I wish him the best of luck in his new role.  

Especially considering the challenges that appear to be confronting SHNYU.  Of course, these are, as always, my own speculation as to the situation in which SHNYU finds itself.  But there are a number of key issues which need to be resolved:

1.  Tuition Fees
NYU fees are eye-wateringly expensive.  US$45k approx per annum.  The recent announcement on SHNYU detailed that 51% of the initial 300 students projected to be enrolled in 2013 must come from the Chinese National University Entrance Exam admissions system (gaokao 高考).   Current fees for other JV universities (see below) do not exceed 60k RMB for students recruited through the Gaokao.  It remains to be seen what fees SHNYU will be permitted to charge Gaokao students as these fees are set by the Shanghai municipal education bureau.  Anything in excess of 60kRMB per annum would be highly surprising.  Is it the case that SHNYU will cross-subsidize these students with full-fee paying international students (making up the remaining 49% of students)?  Will SHNYU be able to find 150 US students will to enrol at US$45k in 2013 without access to US educational financial aid?  It is probable that some spin will be put on the limiting of fees for Gaokao students, with SHNYU possibly preferring to say that only the best students will be recruited and given significant scholarships.  For example, rather than set Chinese student fees lower, SHNYU will say fees are US$45k with talented Chinese students (all of those admitted) receiving a scholarship calculated as: NYU fee - Maximum Fee chargeable by SHNYU to Gaokao students = SHNYU Scholarship (i.e. US$45k - US$9k (60kRMB) = US$36k Scholarship)

2.  A Nest of Vipers
This is a major flagship operation in China's financial capital.  Fudan and Shanghai Jiaotong universities are unlikely to welcome the competition, and these two universities wield an immense amount of political influence.  China Europe International Business School (CEIBS) is also likely to emerge as a strong competitor, especially if SNHYU move into graduate education, which they undoubtedley will at the earliest opportunity.  SHNYU will have the support of the Pudong government and those officials, cadres and academicians loyal to ECNU, but it could be tough going if the machinations of Chinese politics and HE are brought to bear on SHNYU (this could happen for any number of reasons).  

3.  Tigers on the Mountain
VC Lehman must have the political nouse to balance the interests of several very powerful interested parties, most notably the MoE, Pudong government, ECNU and NYU (in that order).  Far from implying VC Lehman will be unable to balance these interests, which already appear to be coming to fore in terms of tuition fees arrangements, this is simply an acknowledgement of the monumentally powerful vested interests tied up in SHNYU.  VC Lehman's lot is likely to be a thankless task.  If it goes badly, he'll get the blame; if it goes well, they'll be plenty of other people willing to take the credit (this is why the title VC Lehman has in Chinese and English is incredibly important).  Lets hope he's got some good people around him who (a) understand this delicate balance and (b) have a deep appreciation of the highly political and strategic nature of Chinese culture.  Such people are thin on the ground.  

I genuinely wish SHNYU the best of luck, but worry that the spotlight will shine brightly and at a very high temperature on SHNYU.  

Below is a little background on the exalted company which SHNYU joins in becoming a new Sino-Foreign JV university in China.  

Joinining the JV Crowd
Foreign universities are not permitted to establish campuses in China, but must form Sino-Foreign Joint Ventures (usually formed as a cooperative joint-venture, as opposed to an equity joint venture).  Several high profile JV's have already been established since the 2003 Regulations on Sino-Foreign Cooperative School Management were promulgated:

1.  University of Nottingham, Ningbo, China (UNNC)
Established in 2004, UNNC is the first Sino-Foriegn Joint Venture University between the University of Nottingham (UK) and Wanli University, a private (民办) university in the city of Ningbo, Zhejiang Province.  The Founding Provost and CEO of UNNC  was Professor Ian Gow OBE who is the current Principal and CEO of the Sino-British College in Shanghai (see below).  

2.  Xi'an Jiaotong Liverpool University (XJTLU)
XJTLU was established shortly after UNNC and took its first students in 2006.  Located in the city of Suzhou, Jiangsu Province, XJTLU is a JV between Xi'an Jiaotong University and the University of Liverpool.  Xi'an Jiaotong University (西安交通大学), the Chinese partner, is one of the most prestigious universities in China.  It is a member of the C9 Group, China's Ivy League, and a founding member of the 985 group of leading research intensive universities.  

3.  Sino-British College (SBC)
The Sino-British College is a slightly different model.  It is a JV between University of Shanghai Science and Technology (USST - 上海理工大学) and several universities in the north of England known as the Northern Consortium, including Sheffield, Manchester, Bradford and Leeds.  

4.  United International College (UIC) 
Established as the first cooperative university between PRC and HK, UIC is a JV between Hong Kong Baptist University and Beijing Normal University (北京师范大学).  

5.  Wenzhou Kean University (WKU)
Recently approved in December 2011, this raised a few eyebrows.  Firstly, because the decision to grant a licence for this JV seems to ride roughshod over the unwritten rule that only Top 20 universities from foreign countries will be considered.  Kean is certainly not in that category.  Secondly, because the application for a licence was submitted to the MoE in 2006, with Kean having been in talks with Wenzhou since 2004.  Speculation attributes this decision to the possibility that it has been influenced by the leadership change coming in PRC in October 2012.  Xi Jinping, who is expected to succeed Hu Jintao as Gen. Party Secretary of the CCP in October (and then as President in March 2013), was Party secretary of Zhejiang Province when this project was initially launched.  Thats not to suggest there's any pressure coming from Xi himself, more that rubber stamping projects launched during his tenure in Zhejiang could be seen as a sign of loyalty to his incoming administration.  


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Monday, 2 April 2012

Clampdown: Ministry of Education announces strict enforcement of existing Sino-Foreign Education regulations

On the 19th March (see post below) this blog reported the tightening of regulations concerning the admission and assessment of students registering on Masters programmes at Chinese universities.  The post discussed the possible implications for Sino-Foreign cooperative programmes, specifically highlighting the system of conferring degrees at all levels in China, including 2+2 and joint-Masters programmes where Chinese students spend a portion of their time at a foreign partner university.  Suffice to say that this announcement makes it incredibly important that all Sino-Foreign cooperative programmes operate within the regulatory framework laid down by the Ministry of Education (MoE) and do not recruit students to programmes which have not been licensed and approved my the MoE.

Yesterday (1st April 2012), the MoE issued a circular via their website announcing the strict enforcement of regulations concerning Sino-Foreign cooperative education.  This includes all cooperative programmes and Sino-Foreign JV universities in China (i.e. any joint-programmes taught wholly or partially in the territory of the PRC) at Diploma, Foundation, UG, PG and Doctoral levels.  It appears not to be an April Fool's joke.  

The circular calls on all Sino-Foreign cooperative programmes/institutions to "accurately grasp the policy limits of Sino-Foreign cooperation in school management" and explicitly insists that the licensing procedures for programmes must be strictly adhered to, with approval being granted prior to the launch of new diplomas and degrees.  

The circular clearly states that programmes "foreign academic diplomas and degree certificates obtained in violation of regulations shall not be certified".  This means that, as has been pointed out on this blog in a recent post (see: ), the MoE will not confer any foreign degrees wholly or partially taught in China unless they have specifically been approved by the Ministry of Education.  Lack of a conferral from the MoE essentially means the degree is not recognised in the PRC and renders any further study at Chinese universities impossible; means any subsequent PG or doctoral certificates will not be recognised either, and massively restricts (almost entirely) employment opportunities as most employers insist on a degree certificate and the MoE conferral (the conferral is seen as a check against fraudulent diplomas and degrees - all Chinese students who study entirely overseas must have their degrees notarised by the Chinese Embassy in that country and, upon return, the MoE will confer the degree).  

In addition, the MoE expressed their intention to enforce existing regulations and licence conditions concerning profit generation: "we must resolutely resist and correct (fix) misconceptions and practices of the foreign school as a means of income generation".  This clause of the circular should be noted by Sino-Foreign cooperative programmes which emphasise profit/high fees/marketing/recruitment over and above strong administration, quality teaching and management of their programmes in China.  

In instances where unlicensed programmes are in operation, the MoE advises that "unauthorised use of the name of the (Sino-Foreign) university and resources to run illegally held foreign school activities shall be promptly put to a stop" and "illegally held school activities, illegal issue of foreign a timely manner shall be punished".  The message could hardly be clearer.  Foreign universities must abide by the conditions of their licence, the 1998 HE Law of the PRC, the 2003 Sino-Foreign Cooperative Education Mgt Regulations and the 2006 amendment to those regulations.  

So, a warning indeed to all foreign educators involved in degree programmes in China: do your due diligence and make sure everything you are doing is above board and that all approvals have been obtained from the MoE in advance.  Those cooperative programmes operating within the parameters of their licences and observing the spirit and conditions of the 2003 regulations (amended in 2006) have little to be concerned about, save for an potential increase in monitoring by the HE bureaucracy.  This announcement merely announces that existing regulations will be much more strictly enforced with contravention of regulations being investigated by local/provincial education bureaus, the MoE and (if necessary) by the Public Security Bureau.  

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Monday, 19 March 2012

MoE Announce Tougher Enforcement of Masters Student Application System - Predicting the Impact on Sino-Foreign programmes

The PRC Ministry of Education has announced that the admissions system for Masters courses will be subject to very strict enforcement this year, calling on local education bureaus, admissions units to strengthen their administration of enrolment and assessment of prospective Masters students.

The announcement highlights the importance which the MoE attach to maintaining the integrity of applications, with irregularities being investigated by the MoE and, in severe cases where conspiracy is evident, by the Public Security Bureau. The MoE clearly states that coordinated attempts to influence the admissions process involving local officials constitutes a criminal act and will be dealt with accordingly.

Original Link (Chinese only)

Such regulations exist for specific reasons. Firstly, and most obviously, these regulations exist to ensure fairness in the application system.

Secondly, and perhaps not as well known, is the issue of degrees in China being conferred by the MoE. This is a centrally controlled system of issuing and conferring degrees which fights academic fraud and also ensures that universities comply with various laws and regulations covering Chinese HE.

Masters candidates in China can only apply for a Masters course which appears on an approved list. In order to apply they must have taken the Masters Admissions Test referred to above. Consequently, prospective students can be sure that the Masters programme to which they are applying has been approved (Masters degree awarding status of a university must be given by the State Council - the PRC Cabinet), and, upon graduation, they will be issued with (a) their degree certificate from the awarding institution, and (b) the conferral from the Ministry of Education. This is the case with both UG and PG degrees in China.

It is important here to note that the conferral from the MoE is as important, if not more so, than the degree itself. Without the conferral, students will be unable to apply for jobs in China in state-owned companies, government departments, banks, universities, schools, hospitals and, increasingly, privately-owned and multi-national corporations operating in China. Also, no MoE conferral means the degree is not recognised as a legitimate academic qualification and any subsequent qualifications earned, such as a PhD, will thus also be declared invalid. This is a system which exists to make it near impossible for false or forged academic degree certificates to help secure employment or acceptance on a higher education course.

The system of centrally conferring degrees through the MoE is also extended, via the Chinese Embassies around the world, to foreign-educated Chinese citizens. For example, say a student decides to go to the UK to study, he/she must, upon completion of their degree, have the degree certificate validated and notarized by the Chinese Embassy or Consular Office in the UK. Then, upon return to China, the student will be added to the centrally-held list of graduates and have their degree conferred through the MoE, thus enabling the student to apply for a job (or further degree at a Chinese university).

Another consideration is for those students enrolled on a cooperative degree programme. These take many forms, but are essentially degree programmes taught entirely in China or partially in China and partially in a foreign country, and which offer a foreign degree or both a foreign and Chinese degree to graduating students. All 2+2 undergraduate programmes fall under this category, as do 1+1 Masters programmes and all programmes taught at Sino-Foreign JV universities. In this case, however, the degree must be approved by the Ministry of Education. Say, for example, an "under-the-radar" 2+2 UG programme recruits students. The student completes 2 years at the Chinese partner university. Then goes to the UK to complete the final 2 years. Upon graduation, the Chinese Embassy or consular office will refuse to validate and notarise a degree certificate obtained through a 2+2 programme unless that 2+2 programme has been specifically approved and licensed by the MoE.

This latest announcement from the MoE implies that all Masters courses in China will be subject to increased controls on admissions standards. Thus, any Masters programme launched in China, taught fully or partially in China, must be fully approved and taught at a university licensed by the MoE to offer Masters level degrees. Otherwise, students will be unable to apply. Any students enrolled outside the official application system (i.e. illegally) on "under-the-radar" Masters programmes will be unable to get the MoE conferral of their degree.

I am aware of several situations in China where cooperative UG/Masters degree programmes have been established outside the regulatory framework. I fully expect this to become a major issue for those institutions engaged in this practice next year, when those students graduate and discover their degree certificate is deemed invalid and they cannot obtain employment in China or go on to further study. This is an issue of those institutions running de facto illegal degree programmes in China which transgress either or all the 1995 HE Law, the 2003 Sino-Foreign JV Regulations, the 2006 Amendment to Sino-Foreign JV regulations and, perhaps most crucially, the conditions of the licence granted to those institutions to operate in China. Such instances will certainly bring a swarm of angry parents to the doors of these institutions, possible legal action and the wrath of the MoE, thus damaging both the reputation of the institution itself and the parent institutions including the foreign degree awarding institution. In most cases, only the foreign degree is being offered, thus making it all the more likely that the penalties and punishments for disregarding Chinese HE regulations will rest entirely with the foreign institution. It is also unlikely that the MoE will view such blatant disregard for HE regulations, whether deliberate or through ignorance, as anything other than a deliberate attempt to circumvent regulations, especially as such high fees (40k-90kRMB/£4k - £9k) are being charged.

There is also the question of morality here. As a teacher, I would find it absolutely immoral to market a programme to a student in the knowledge that it had not been officially approved. While the UK has the QAA and strong systems of checks and balances both within the university and from various external non-governmental bodies, in China this is all administered through the Ministry of Education. It is a basic and fundamental expectation that courses offered through a university in China satisfy the quality control and approval mechanisms devised by the MoE. Perhaps we will see a system of crippling fines introduced to dissuade fly-by-night courses being established, much the same as has been done in India recently. Predatory marketing of foreign universities in China, driven often by senior admin and international officers keen to reduce their reliance on recruiting international students from the open-market, is potentially very damaging to the British HE sector's reputation in China. It would perhaps be better for these universities to pay greater attention to compliance with Chinese HE regulations, rather than press ahead with marketing of programmes that have not yet been fully granted the necessary approval and licences. It would certainly be safer.


Saturday, 17 March 2012

The Spirit of Lei Feng lives on……On Chinese University Campuses

This year, August 15th to be precise, marks the 50th anniversary of the death of Lei Feng.  While this year marks 50 years since the passing of the icon of Communist China, every year on the 5th March young Chinese are encouraged to "learn from Lei Feng (向雷锋学习)" as part of Lei Feng Day 学雷锋日.  Needless to say, this year, in view of the 50 years since his death, events have been prominent and covered extensively in the national and local media.  

For those of you who have never heard of Lei Feng 雷锋, he was a young Communist and revolutionary soldier who dedicated much of his young life to selflessly helping others, adhering to socialist principles and revering the teachings of Chairman Mao.   
died at a tragically young at the age of 21, killed in an accident when a PLA transport truck struck a telephone pole which then fell on Lei, killing him instantly.  Here's a short 20min film for those with a penchant for late 60's CPC propaganda videos.  (no English subtitles I'm afraid, but its a simple story.  Nice man helps others a lot and never thinks of himself).

The Ministry of Education has reported a wide range of activities conducted at famous universities across China, including Wuhan University, Beijing Foreign Studies University (BFSU), Shanghai Jiaotong University, Fudan University, Nankai University, North China Electrical Power University, Beijing Forestry University, Jiangnan University, Hebei Agricultural University, Dongbei Normal University, Tianjian Foreign Studies University and several city level business colleges across the country.  Doubtless that many more universities held similar activities on Lei Feng Day, urging students to develop a more considerate and less self-centred attitude towards their personal development.  Students volunteer to contribute to the improvement of campus life in a variety of different ways; to help individuals without thought for themselves; engage with the surrounding community, and 

Events like Lei Feng Day are often dismissed as quaint little nods to the CCP; a necessary ritual that all Chinese students must endure.  Conversely, many cynics (often foreigners - or at least those sufficiently out of the expat bubble to even know that such events exist) deride such occasions as subversive efforts to indoctrinate the youth of China with the poisonous ideologies of Communism and authoritarian rule.  

Yet if we look at many of the problems in modern China, problems that have been well-documented both inside and outside of the PRC, civility, at a very basic person-to-person level, is often absent in fast-moving contemporary China.  Whether its high-profile cases such as the young child left injured in a Guangdong street late last year, or a more cases of callousness towards fellow citizens (especially where money is concerned), it is perhaps apparent that a little more selflessness would be a good thing. 

The recent 2010-2020 Education Plan  (2010-2020 国家中教育改革和发展规划纲要) specifically addresses the role of education as primarily related to the moral education and moral development of citizens, a distinctly Confucian view of the role of education.  University Presidents and Party Secretaries are charged with not only providing moral leadership by example, but also in ensuring that  morality occupies a place of central importance in the development of students.  

Its also this type of interesting cultural event that makes China a fascinating place to be.  I would sincerely hope, as was the case when I studied at Fudan University (2004/05) and Peking University (2007/08) that these activities continue to offer windows into modern China's soul.  Its certainly my opinion that such activities are entirely benign, often useful, raise consciousness of civic responsibility (which is a fundamental prerequisite for democratic participation in any form), and contribute to an altogether more pleasant atmosphere.  

Such type of community-based, or sphere-based participation could well be the basis of political reform in China, given the great philosophical tradition of elevating the needs of society over and above the rights of the individual.  Indeed, there has already been much written about experiments in civic participation in municipalities in eastern China, and I've seen exactly this type of issue covered in-depth on local TV (one that springs to mind is issues of food hygiene in local restaurants being tackled by concerned citizens with the full backing of the city Mayor and various bureaus).  

While these may well be thoughts on the shape of China's coming transformation, despite Wen Jiabao's recent call for political reform, we should recognize that "democratization" does not necessarily equate with "electoral reform".  Personally, I feel that any system of democratization introduced in China will be done so gradually, and will emphasize social stability and social cohesion over individual political liberties (thus reducing the scope for any form of representative, multi-party democracy).  Where I differ from many of my friends (westerners, specifically), is that I do not view this as unfortunate.   I strongly feel that, since 1989 the west has rested on its laurels, convinced of the supremacy of its own political and economic model.  In reality, our cavalier attitude has allowed crony-capitalism and plural interests to undermine the very basis of our electoral system, placing our governments at the whim of big business: we may vote them in, but they've shown consistently over the years that once they're in they disregard the voter and pander to big business.  What excites me about China is two things: (A) their determination to forge their own path and (B) that this is going to force the West into a wholescale re-examination of our uncritical and absolute faith in a system which increasingly seems to be very far from the ideals upon which it is supposed to have been built.  

While little things like Lei Feng Day may appear insignificant, there is a small part of me that sees how the role of the university, as a place where new ideas are fomented, formed and enacted, could be crucial.  Even in a state-corporatist system like China, insitutional and social change is inevitable.  Even if the CCP maintain their power, change will occur in and out of university level activity.  Perhaps we will see a new form of political change arising from universities in China, but perhaps it will be as a result of CCP policies, not in spite of them.  

"Lei Feng on Campus: Education System carries out 'Study Lei Feng Activities'" from the MoE Website: 

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Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Sino British College - China Daily

A piece on the Sino-British College in the China Daily.

Chinese Higher Education: Overseas Student Numbers for 2011

International students pursuing study in China rose again this year, according to figures released from the Ministry of Education (original Chinese language souce at:

Numbers appear to be calculated on a calendar year basis, as opposed to the academic year which runs from September to August.  Also, numbers appear to be calculated from visas granted or perhaps invitation letters issued by the provincial/municipal education bureaus.  

2011 saw an annual growth of total overseas student numbers by a figure of 27521 (10.38%) over 2010.  This took the total number of overseas students in China to 292611 students from a total of 194 countries, studying at 660 institutions across the PRC, but not in Taiwan, HK or Macao).  

FUNDING 2011 Change on 2010
Self Funding Students 266924 +22224 (9.98%)
Chinese Govt Scholarship 25687 +3297 (14.73%)

Asia 187871 64.21%
Europe 47271 16.15%
The Americas 32333 11.05%
Africa 20744 7.09%
Australasia 4932 1.50%

South Korea 62442
USA 23292
Japan 17961
Thailand 14145
Vietnam 13549
Russia 13340
Indonesia 10597
India 9370
Pakistan 8516
Kazakhstan 8287
France 7592
Mongolia 7112
Germany 5451
*By-Country figures only given for countries sending in excess of 5000 students per year

Non-Degree Seeking Students 173774 59.39%
Degree Seeking Students 118837 40.61%

DEGREE LEVEL 2011 % of Total Degree Seeking Students
Undergraduate Degree  88461 74.44%
Postgraduate Degree 23453 19.74%
Doctoral Candidates 6923 5.83%

The MoE report signs off with an unusually clear message on the objectives of Chinese Higher Education and specifically the increased recruitment of international students:

"The Ministry of Education will continue in the spirit of the 'National Medium-Long Term Education Plan Outline', earnestly implement the "China International Student Plan", improve the environment for international students through focusing on the standardizing management and improving quality of educational provision for international students.  By 2020 international student numbers will reach 500000 establishing China as the largest (most popular) destination for international students in the whole of Asia".  


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