Sunday, 15 November 2015

Sino-Foreign HE Regulations: Why is it important to play by the rules?

During the course of extensive research into the Sino-Foreign HE landscape, its become apparent that a significant number of foreign universities, overwhelmingly from Anglophone nations including the UK, US, Canada, Australia, Ireland and New Zealand, are involved in provision of preparatory programmes which exist outside the official Sino-Foreign regulatory framework.  They are, in effect, not recognized as Sino-Foreign collaborations and this, unsurprisingly, means they pose risks to both the foreign universities and the students taking these courses.  The Daxue will, in this article, examine the implications of this for foreign universities and the students.  First, though, we’ll take a brief look at officially approved Sino-Foreign programmes. 

Doing things legitimately
There are three types of Sino-Foreign collaboration possible in China: Joint Ventures (JVs), Joint Education Insititutes (JEIs) and Joint Education Programmes (JEPs).  All are established by a Chinese and foreign parent university working together.  JEPs are established to run a single foreign programmes at a Chinese partner university, while JVs and JEIs offer multiple programmes.  The distinction between a JV and JEI is that the former is a brand new Chinese university created by the parent universities, but legally separate from them and enjoying “legal person status (具有法人)” under Chinese law. JEIs are internal colleges established within an existing Chinese university and are idenitifed in Ministry records as not having legal person status (不具有法人). 

For JVs and JEIs, a single code is given to the institution, not to each degree for which the JV or JEI has been received approval.  The Table below shows how this code distinguishes between JVs and JEIs and how the codes also indiciate other features of the collaboration. 


Approving Authority
Province
Code
Foreign Country Code
Legal Person Status
Year Est.
Ref #
Pre / Post 2003
1.
NYU Shanghai
Joint Venture
Approval Code: MOE31USA01INR20121286N
MOE
31
USA
01INR
2012
1286
N
Ministry of Education
Shanghai
United States of America
Yes
(JV)
2012
1286
Post-2003
2.
Sino-German College at Tongji University
Joint Education Insititute
Approval Code: MOE31DEA02DNR19960142O
MOE
31
DEA
02DNR
1996
0142
O
Ministry of Education
Shanghai
Germany
No
(JEI)
1996
0142
Pre-2003

In the case of JVs and JEIs, a code is given to the institution rather than to each degree.  However, each degree must be listed on the MoE record and approved by the provincial education bureau or municipal education commission prior to and students being recruited.  With regards to JVs, this is the first stage of approval, whereby JVs and JEIs get permission to recruit students to specific degrees/majors.  JVs and JEIs also need to get degree awarding power for the Chinese degree. This requires a 2nd approval process which is conducted in the year prior to graduation of the first graduating class in that degree or major.  So there are two separate processes: one prior to recruitment, and one prior to graduation of the first cohort on that degree.

JEPs receive a slightly different code, with each JEP receiving their own code.  If a foreign university runs multiple degrees with a Chinese partner using JEPs, it must get approval for each degree. 


Approving Authority
Province
Code
Foreign Country Code
Recruitment Channel
Year Est.
Ref #
Pre / Post 2003
1.
Masters in Education Management
Chinese Partner: Zhejiang Normal University
Foreign Partner: Edith Cowan University
Approval Code: MOE33AU1A20020102O
MOE
33
AU
1A
2002
0102
O
Ministry of Education
Zhejiang
Australia
Non-Gaokao
2012
0102
Pre-2003
2.
BA Pre-School Education
Chinese Partner: Jiamusi University
Foreign Partner: Far Eastern State Academy for Humanities and Social Science
Approval Code: MOE23RU2A20121352N
MOE
23
RU
2A
2012
1352
N
Ministry of Education
Heilongjiang
Russia
Gaokao
2012
0102
Post-2003


In the case of JEPs, if the degree does not have an MOE code, it is categorically not recognized by the Chinese authorities.  The MoE holds a database of all approved records (Chinese only) which can be searched to confirm the validity of Sino-Foreign collaborative  programmes.

JVs and JEIs: The Importance of Getting Approval to Recruit
Within formally approved Sino-Foreign collaborations, an institution has less autonomy in launching new degree programmes than in HE sectors such as the UK, US.  All new degree programmes at JVs and JEIs must be approved by the provincial/municipal education authorities prior to recruitment.  It is, in fact, not possible, to recruit students to programmes which have not been approved, as these programmes will not be listed as options in the Gaokao application system. However, it is often argued that the Chinese authorities have no say in what degree is awarded by a foreign university, even if approval is not granted.  This may be true, but all Chinese citizens must register their foreign degrees with the Ministry of Education.  Therefore it is of paramount importance to Chinese students that they receive the foreign degree for which they are registered at the JV or JEI. If not, the Ministry of Education cannot confer the Chinese degree and the student will be unable to register their foreign degree. This will prevent the Chinese student from being able to apply for Masters study at any Chinese university; will exclude them from employment in government, State-owned enterprises, schools, universities, hospitals, banks, media and in most Chinese and multinational businesses.  In effect, without MoE recognition, all degrees are rendered useless unless they are verifiable. 

Degree Approval Process for Chinese Citizens Earning Foreign Degrees
If a Chinese student goes overseas and studies in a foreign university for their entire degree they must, upon graduation, have their degree certificate notarized by the PRC Embassy in the country where they obtained the degree.  For students who study for their degree either partially or fully in the PRC, a different process is followed as students will be unable to verify their degree certificate with an overseas PRC Embassy.  For graduates of programmes at JVs, JEIs and JEPs, they must register their degree directly with the MoE’s Sino Foreign Degree Recognition System (http://rzzc.crs.jsj.edu.cn/Login.aspx ).  It is not possible to register unless (a) the student is already in the database as a matriculating student at a Sino-Foreign collaboration; (b) the JEP has a MOE approval code, or (c) the JV or JEI has an MOE approval code and the degree has been approved and recorded. 

If Sino-Foreign collaborations fail to adhere to these approval processes, a moral hazard arises whereby the cost of this decision to run unapproved degrees is more likely to be borne by the student.  The institution may also be severely reprimanded, as was the case last year with a Sino-Foreign programme in Nanjing University of Posts and Telecomms which transgressed recruitment regulations.  NUPC was banned from establishing any further Sino-Foreign operations until the end of 2015, and advised that a repeat of the violations would result in criminal prosecutions by the Public Security Bureau.  89 students were illegally admitted to a Sino-Foreign programme leading to a UK degree between 2007 and 2010.  In addition, 69 students admitted between 2009-2012 to programs leading to study in the US, UK, Canada, Holland and Malaysia were also affected.  Upon return to China, these students discovered they were unable to register their foreign degrees in China rendering their degrees effectively useless for employment in the PRC.   

What type of programmes are not approved?
Research into JVs, JEIs and JEPs identified several JEIs which run unapproved programmes alongside approved ones.  This led to further exploratory investigation which reveals a large number of colleges, or training bases (基地), which run a range of pathway programmes designed to send students overseas for study.  These include foundation programmes, 1+3 and 2+2 arrangements which see the Chinese student transfer to a foreign university following completion of a period of study in China.  However, such programmes exist outside the Chinese HE sector and have been explicitly identified by the MoE as not permissible under the regulatory framework:


“At present, some higher education institutions, especially some key (Chinese) ones, provide so-called preparatory course of a certain foreign university of which some are actually foreign language training. As the foreign university does not take part in the teaching activities conducted within the territory of China, the Chinese party and foreign party sign a so-called agreement on mutual recognition of credits and promise that the students attending preparatory courses have opportunities to continue studying at the foreign university and may, after finishing their study, get diplomas of the university. The educational activity mentioned above is not an educational activity carried out by Chinese-foreign cooperation and is not beneficial for improving the teaching quality of higher education institutions. All higher education institutions shall put the emphasis of their work on the improvement of education quality, and no one may conduct any such educational activity, let alone in the name of Chinese-foreign cooperative school running.”
MoE Circular 14 (2007)


Foreign universities engaged in such preparatory programmes include prestigious institutions which are members of the UK’s Russell Group, 1994 Group and  Million+; Australia’s Group of Eight universities and universities from the US ranked in the US News College National Universities Top 150.  As preparatory programmes exist outside the regulatory framework, getting information on the scale of this shadow sector is difficult.  Preliminary research has identified well in excess of 30 Chinese “colleges” running preparatory courses.  Each of these colleges has a number of programmes with foreign universities.  One such college has, in the decade since its establishment, established partnerships with 18 universities in US, UK, Canada, Australia  and New Zealand, sending over 5000 students to their partner universities.  Another established in 2001 claims 21 partnerships and enrolments of 500 students. It is easy to see why this looks like a good deal for foreign universities, reducing marketing costs and bringing in good numbers of Chinese students from good Chinese universities.  Or so it would seem…

Who are the Chinese partners?
Preparatory courses, referred to as “talent training programmes (人才培养), are offered through colleges established by Chinese universities. College names often take the name form: xxxx University International College (xxxx学院) and in other cases are referred to as “international classes ()” or “study abroad bridges (留学)”.

What risks are created for the foreign partner when their foreign programme is not approved or recognized by the Chinese authorities (i.e. does not have an MOE code)?
The major risk posed is that students registered on unapproved programmes is the status of students at the Chinese university. Looking at the websites of some US, UK and Australian universities running preparatory courses, it is apparent that they believe the students they are receiving through these channels are from the Chinese universities which establish these training colleges. However, while these “colleges” are owned and operated by a Chinese university, students admitted onto preparatory courses are not admitted or enrolled as students of the Chinese university. As these preparatory programmes are not officially recognized, they cannot and are not listed as degrees which are applied to through the National University Entrance Exam, better known as the Gaokao. In addition, while Gaokao is often used as an admission criteria, requirements are set well below anything that would be constitute a Tier 1 Gaokao score in any province.  For example, one college in Guangdong requests Gaokao results of 60% as part of its admission requirements to a 2+2 preparatory course with a leading UK university.  To put this in context, 60% would be significantly below a Tier 1 Gaokao score in all Chinese regions except Ningxia, Qinghai, Xinjiang and Xizang (Tibet).  All other regions require a Gaokao score in excess of 62%. (2012 Gaokao figures). Beijing, Guizhou, Yunnan and Inner Mongolia Tier 1 scores are around 63% and above in the Gaokao.  All other provinces range from 68% to 78%.   A Tier 1 Gaokao score indicates the student has scored sufficiently well to enter a 4yr UG programme at one of 175 universities.  This includes all 117 members of Project 211, 14 former national level universities now administered at the provincial level; 40 provincial level universities, and 4 universities which are overseen by different Ministries and CCP bodies.  But its important not to conflate a Tier 1 score with a “top” score.  To get into a leading school, such as PKU, Tsinghua or Fudan, scores must be significantly higher than a Tier 1 score. 
            It is, therefore, important to understand that while Gaokao is used as a criteria for admission to preparatory programmes, it should not be mistaken for an indicator of quality. 60% on a Gaokao exam is, with the exception of students from a few regions, not good enough to get into any of the universities running these preparatory programmes. 

What would this look like in another country?
In the UK, British students (generally speaking) apply to university through UCAS and receive conditional offers ahead of their A level results in the August prior to admission.  Students must go through UCAS, applying to some of the 37000 courses listed by UCAS, in a similar manner to the Chinese system where Chinese students must take the Gaokao exam and apply through the National Entrance Exam to courses listed by the MoE. 
            But if we imagine a similar situation in the UK, it would read something like this.  British students with one E at A Level apply directly to a preparatory course leading to study at a reputable US university. Their application doesn’t go through UCAS and the tuition fees are substantially higher than study on a degree at any UK university.  They are then admitted to a course delivered at a training company owned by the UK university and in buildings on their campus.  However, they are not enrolled at that university and never study towards a degree at the UK university.  After two years, providing they achieve a certain standard, they can transfer to the US university to complete 2 more years of study and obtain a US degree.  Throughout, the US university believes it is getting high quality students from the UK university which owns this for-profit training company.  In addition, due to their belief that they are getting students from a top UK university, the US university places little emphasis on quality oversight and performs very little in the way of quality assurance.  In reality, they are getting students who would struggle to get into any university in the UK, but who are prepared to pay exorbitant fees well in excess of anything likely at a real university.

What about the students registered on unapproved programmes?
Chinese students who enroll on preparatory courses are not in a very good position.  Firstly, the tuition fees range from RMB50k to RMB120k for some preparatory courses, 10 to 22 times higher than standard fees for a Chinese degree.  Once they transfer to the foreign university, they must pay the foreign university international fees.  However, if they do not achieve the required results and requisite IELTS/TOEFL score within the agreed time frame, they have limited options.  The foreign university is under no obligation to take these students unless their admission requirements are fulfilled, as the Chinese students are not actually enrolled on the foreign degree while studying in China.  Moreover, the students are never registered on a Chinese degree programme and therefore cannot simply complete studies.  They are left in a form of educational limbo, without registration as a matriculating student at any university and out of pocket a significant amount of money.  They simply have to retake the year and/or resit the IELTS/TOEFL exams, or withdraw and find an alternative pathway at another so-called college. 

Due Diligence
This issue has been covered in previous posts on The Daxue.  However, with a much more comprehensive review of the officially approved Sino-Foreign sector, it has become increasingly obvious that there is a substantial and significant shadow sector which operates outside the formal HE sector.  More worryingly, it seems that foreign universities are complicit in the establishment of articulation arrangements which undermine the quality of the students they receive.  Universities operating in the PRC have a duty to their Chinese students to ensure that their operations comply with regulations, especially as it is the students who will likely be affected if the authorities take issue with any regulatory anomalies. 

Mike Gow
(Until further research is conducted, it has been decided not to name any institutions, Chinese or foreign, which operate outside the regulatory framework.  However, information published publicly by both Chinese colleges and foreign universities strongly indicates that many reputable universities, especially in the UK, US, Austrlaia and Canada, are either deliberately misrepresenting the nature of these preparatory course partnerships or are simply unaware of the nature of their agreements and status of the students and colleges they are dealing with).


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