Re­forms change higher ed

China Daily (Canada) - - SHANGHAI - By LI YANG in Shang­hai

The Shang­hai ed­u­ca­tion au­thor­ity is­sued its col­lege en­roll­ment pi­lot plan for the com­ing spring se­mes­ter last week.

The 22 univer­si­ties ad­min­is­trated by Shang­hai mu­nic­i­pal au­thor­ity, in­clud­ing Univer­sity of Shang­hai for Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy, Shang­hai Mar­itime Univer­sity and East China Univer­sity of Po­lit­i­cal Sci­ence and Law, will en­roll 1,640 stu­dents.

The big­gest change in the pi­lot plan is that each en­trance exam taker can ap­ply for two univer­si­ties at the same time and three ma­jors at each school. One stu­dent can re­ceive of­fers from two univer­si­ties at the same time after pass­ing the exams.

In pre­vi­ous col­lege en­trance exams, one stu­dent could re­ceive only one of­fer from one univer­sity. The en­roll­ment re­form in Shang­hai, which seems small, will give stu­dents much more free­dom in mak­ing life choices.

Although some key univer­si­ties like Fu­dan and Shang­hai Jiao­tong, which are ad­min­is­tered by the Ed­u­ca­tion Min­istry, are not cov­ered by the mea­sure, the re­form in Shang­hai rep­re­sents a bold step for­ward in ex­plor­ing a prag­matic path to­ward na­tional col­lege en­roll­ment re­form.

The Ed­u­ca­tion Min­istry vowed in 2010 to give stu­dents more free­dom of choice in col­lege en­trance exams.

But it is still not that easy to sep­a­rate exams from en­roll­ment.

On the one hand, it re­quires the ed­u­ca­tion au­thor­ity to del­e­gate more power to third-party agen­cies to let them as­sess stu­dent per­for­mance, and give univer­si­ties the au­ton­omy to choose the stu­dents they like.

On the other hand, some fear the gov­ern­ment’s with­drawal from the en­roll­ment sec­tion will cre­ate op­por­tu­ni­ties for cheat­ing and un­der­handed deal­ings. China has tried to let univer­si­ties en­roll stu­dents them­selves since 2003, but the re­sults have been dis­ap­point­ing. The com­pe­ti­tion and pres­sure for the stu­dents did not dwin­dle be­cause of the re­form. In China, be­ing en­rolled in col­lege and find­ing a job in a city is the fastest way for a stu­dent from a ru­ral area to earn an ur­ban hukou, or house­hold reg­is­tra­tion, and af­fil­i­ated ur­ban res­i­dent wel­fare.

Some school of­fi­cials in charge of en­roll­ment seek bribes. Some rich and pow­er­ful par­ents just buy their chil­dren a seat and a diploma in pres­ti­gious univer­si­ties. The Ed­u­ca­tion Min­istry has almost no su­per­vi­sion over th­ese school of­fi­cials.

Last year, an en­roll­ment of­fice di­rec­tor of Beijing-based Ren­min Univer­sity was caught in Beijing air­port try­ing to es­cape to Canada with a fake pass­port. He had ac­cu­mu­lated tens of mil­lions of dol­lars after work­ing at that post for sev­eral years. Iron­i­cally, he had been named a na­tional model ed­u­ca­tor sev­eral months ear­lier by the Ed­u­ca­tion Min­istry.

In fact, the in­de­pen­dent re­cruit­ment re­form since 2003 is not the real model China needs. The re­form only com­bines in­de­pen­dent re­cruit­ment with a na­tional col­lege en­trance exam. The stu­dents en­rolled in the univer­si­ties still need to take col­lege en­trance exams and put the name of the univer­sity that has al­ready en­rolled him or her as the first choice on their ap­pli­ca­tion form to be sub­mit­ted to lo­cal ed­u­ca­tion au­thor­i­ties. The schools have more choices, but the stu­dents’ op­tion rights are not re­spected. The in­de­pen­dent re­cruit­ment re­form fi­nally turns into a com­pe­ti­tion for good stu­dents among dif­fer­ent univer­sity al­liances.

China should draw lessons from the United States. The free ap­pli­ca­tion en­roll­ment sys­tem is an im­por­tant rea­son why the US has the best univer­si­ties in the world.

Only when stu­dents get more of­fers to make a choice them­selves can in­de­pen­dent re­cruit­ment be re­al­ized. The schools must im­prove their ed­u­ca­tion qual­ity and ser­vices to at­tract more stu­dents. The com­pe­ti­tion among schools ben­e­fits the stu­dents and the whole na­tion. More im­por­tantly, stu­dents will have the right to su­per­vise and eval­u­ate schools after hav­ing their op­tion rights. The school ad­min­is­tra­tors will then take their jobs se­ri­ously.

GAO ERQIANG / CHINA DAILY

Doc­tor­ate grad­u­ates take pho­tos at Fu­dan Univer­sity in Shang­hai last spring.

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