Reforms change higher ed
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.
Doctorate graduates take photos at Fudan University in Shanghai last spring.