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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