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.