After all the intensive study to get into university – ending with the gruelling make-or-break entrance exam – for many students in China, life gets a little easier once they are at college.
In fact, most Chinese university students have been able to graduate even if they did not do well thanks to a “clearing test” offering a third chance to pass a subject after failing twice.
But now, the Ministry of Education wants that to change. In a bid to lift academic standards, universities are now required to apply much tougher penalties for plagiarism, data manipulation and students who submit work that is not their own.
And the “clearing test” which has long been an option at most mainland universities has also been banned, according to a notice issued by the ministry last month. They were usually carried out just before the graduation date and were typically much easier than the previous ones, meaning nearly every student was able to pass them.
Last week, Shenzhen University began sending grade reports to parents rather than the students, prompting discussion online over whether this was the latest sign that Chinese colleges are becoming more strict about graduation requirements.
Fan Xianzuo, an education professor at Central China Normal University in Wuhan, said it was high time universities put more academic pressure on students.
“At the moment, Chinese students have it too easy – they’re too relaxed and this is a big point of difference with their peers at universities in Western countries,” he said.
“Many of them aren’t focused on their studies at all, they use their time for other things and in the end they don’t learn anything while they’re at university.”
Education Minister Chen Baosheng also wants to see change on campuses – in June he told university representatives in a meeting on undergraduate studies that the academic bar was too low.
Chen said universities should require students to study hard and tell them to “pursue true knowledge and grasp skills completely”, news website Thepaper.cn reported.
“We should give university students more of a burden, set their academic challenges higher, and inspire them to be more interested in their majors,” Chen was quoted as saying. “We should change the situation that students can graduate without having to study hard.”
The ministry has also taken aim at academic staff – its notice said they should take their jobs seriously and those whose work was not up to scratch would not get promoted.
Some universities have already taken action on the new rules. Tsinghua University in Beijing, for example, has just brought in a system to check students’ work for plagiarism, according to Thepaper.cn. And South China Normal University has raised the minimum grade point average from 1.5 to 2 to qualify for a bachelor’s degree.
Most Chinese welcome efforts to lift academic standards, according to a survey by the official China Youth Daily last year. It found 81 per cent of 2,000 people polled would support a stricter line on academic studies at university. Some 53 per cent said a bachelor’s degree that was too easy to obtain was less valuable.
But Zhang Ming, a political science professor at Renmin University of China in Beijing, said a stricter approach would not necessarily improve Chinese universities. “I guess it’s impossible if what is taught and how it is taught hasn’t improved,” he wrote on microblogging site Weibo.