Tuesday, 6 June 2017

SCMP Article: New Guidelines for Chinese Universities on International Students

The South ChinaMorning Post published an article this morning claiming that international students will be compelled to take classes in Chinese culture and language, as well as Chinese political theory for students majoring in philosophy or politics. 

The article refers to the new “School Enrolment and Training of International Student Management (学校招收和培养国学生管理法)” jointly issued by the Ministries of Education, Foreign Affairs and Public Security.  The full text is available here in Chinese.

However, the document appears to be aimed at firming up administrative practices across Chinese universities as they continue to experience growth in international student numbers. 

For example, there are stipulations concerning the strict observation of admissions standards (Article 12), with students failing to meet minimum requirements prohibited from being admitted.  International students are permitted to undertake work-study internships, but prohibited from employment or engaging in other business activities (Article 30).  International students are required to electronically register any diplomas or degrees obtained or being pursued (Article 21). 

Article 16, which is singled out for particular criticism by SCMP, requires provision of a course on Chinese language classes and a general introduction course on China (汉语和中国概况当作为高等学历教育的必修课). For international students majoring in politics and/or philosophy, a further compulsory course on  political theory must be taken.  These courses would take place in the first year of a four year degree at a Chinese university, while Chinese UG students take the compulsory courses in Marxist-Leninist Thought, Socialism with Chinese Characteristics and Contemporary Chinese history. 

The three suggested courses, especially the provision of Chinese language tuition, makes a great deal of sense for students embarking on a four-year undergraduate degree.  However, further specifications are made on language which SCMP elected not to cover. 

Firstly, Article 18 clearly states that Mandarin is the official language of Chinese HE provision, but also allows for colleges and universities with the necessary facilities and resources to provide teaching and assessment in foreign languages (Article 19).  Specifically, coursework may be completed in a foreign language, with abstracts of theses/dissertations being provided also in Chinese. 

The SCMP article mentions the requirement of Chinese universities to “teach” international students about laws, regulations and customs. However, this is a stipulation laid out in Article 25 under Chapter IV: School Management.  It is actually a proviso placed on the school management, not a pedagogical requirement, and refers to induction information and pastoral support. 

 Chapter IV: Article 25 - Colleges and universities shall educate international students on the contents of Chinese laws and regulations, school discipline, national conditions, Chinese traditional culture and customs, and help them to become familiar with and adapt to the learning and living environment as soon as possible.
Colleges and universities should set up international student counselors to understand the international students of learning, living needs, timely information, advice, sports and other aspects of service work. The proportion of international student counselors is not less than the proportion of Chinese student counselors, and Chinese students counselors enjoy the same treatment.
 International students are specifically provided latitude to celebrate important traditional festivals (Article 27) and to establish a “Friendship Society” through the university’s systems for extra-curricular guidance (Article 28). 

The banning of religious activities is not dealt with in this document, nor is it specifically targeted at international students.  The PRC Higher Education Law (1999) and the PRC Education Law (1995) determine that religious activities are not to be facilitated inside educational institutions.  The new management guidelines on international students actually provide flexibility, but do not permit universities to contravene existing laws through provision of facilities for religious activities:

Chapter IV: Article 29 - Higher education institutions shall respect the national customs and religious beliefs of international students, but do not provide places for religious activities. No religious activities such as missionary or religious gatherings are permitted in the school.”
The SCMP also mentions that these regulations require international students living off campus to register with the Public Security Bureau, implying a new system of monitoring students.  However, as anyone who has lived in China will know, this is a requirement for any and all foreigners.  At all times, foreigners must have an up-to-date temporary registration certificate, whether they are staying with friends, in a hotel, renting an apartment, or have purchased their own home.  The presence of this requirement here is to improve university records of student residence and to ensure students are aware of the potential fines they face for not correctly registering at the relevant police station (派出所). 

The overlap of regulatory oversight of international students is why a joint policy has been issued by these three ministries.  It seeks to both clarify and strengthen the provision of counseling, induction and administrative services for foreign students, encouraging the universities themselves to develop systems to correctly administer international programmes.

The SCMP also highlights the role of "instructors" and, confusingly, compares these to political ideology tutors who deliver first year courses to Chinese students mentioned earlier.  Article 15 does mention the requirement for colleges and universities "select teachers suitable for international student teaching" with the purpose of ensuring improvements to "quality assurance system of education and teaching" regarding the education of international students.  Beyond this, there is no mention of any other functions or roles for the teachers.  It appears to be a simple encouragement for institutions to develop and select teachers who are capable of meeting the educational needs of international students.  

Certainly it also outlines some caveats in the provision, but these are mostly common sense.  Most international students take courses in Chinese language.  The provision of a general introduction to Chinese customs and society is something I wish I’d had in Fudan back in 2004.  And a course in political theory for degree-seeking foreign students enrolled on politics and philosophy majors at Chinese universities is, for want of a better expression, a no-brainer. 

If anything, this document evidences a clear intention on the part of the MoE, with the support of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Public Security, to provide a much more professionally administered service to international students.