Only the best
A change in admission requirements for internationals applying to Chinese universities is causing a debate over education fairness between local and foreign students
Francesca (pseudonym), a second-year graduate student at Tsinghua University who hails from an English-speaking country, recently noticed that her university was in the teeth of the storm for its 2017 admission policies for foreign undergraduate students.
According to a report of the People’s Daily in February, the previously required
written test has been removed from the admission process. Foreign students can now apply for undergraduate studies by participating in an interview and submitting materials including high school academic records, certificates such as SAT (the Scholastic Aptitude Test), or A-Level (the General Certificate of Education Advanced Level), and a HSK certificate.
Some people think that with the new requirements, the school lowers the threshold for admitting foreign students, which is therefore unfair to domestic students. Yet, Tsinghua University responded that with the new policy, the school will evaluate the applicants more comprehensively instead of relying merely on the results of the written test, the report said.
“The new rule for international students’ admission is understandable,” said Francesca.
Recognizing SAT and A-level with an interview will open more doors for students from different backgrounds, she said.
“With this new admission policy, more excellent international students will come, which will slowly create more competition, and then only those who have the best abilities will be admitted into Tsinghua University.”
In recent years, some Chinese universities have reformed foreign student admission policies, such as changing requirements and launching scholarship programs in hope of attracting more quality foreign students.
Lowering or raising the bar?
Francesca chose to come to China to study in Tsinghua University because she studied Chinese in her undergraduate degree back in her country. After coming to Beijing for a oneyear language exchange, she was hooked and planned to return n for her master’s degree.
Back in 2015 when she applied for a master’s program at Tsinghua, she knew it was a good university and was not sure if she would be able ble to meet their high h standards. When she was informed that she e was accepted, she was surprised.urprised
She said she could understand the policy change at Tsinghua.
“Tsinghua is trying its best to become more globally-minded, internationalized, and attract more international students,” she said.
Mak (pseudonym), a 23-year-old Malaysian Chinese who was admitted into the journalism program for a bachelor’s degree at Renmin University of China, also called Renda, in 2013, said canceling written tests does not mean throwing away all standards or lowering the bar. However, many Chinese people still have blind faith in written tests.
The spokesperson for Tsinghua University told the People’s Daily that applicants’ academic performance, Chinese language proficiency and comprehensive abilities can be evaluated more efficiently under the new policy.
He said the new policy has raised the threshold, which is aimed to attract and select more top-tier foreign high school students from diverse backgrounds. They also made the change to connect with well-known international universities and avoid a lack of reliability and validity by using one standard test. “In recent years, more international students study at Tsinghua due to China’s rapid development and our school’s rich resources. After the reform, the pool for top-tier candidates will be enlarged, which will increase competition,” he said in the report.
A debate of fairness
A focus of the controversy is on education fairness between foreign students (including ethnic Chinese) and domestic students.
To refute the doubt that international schools divert resources away from domestic students, the spokesperson with Tsinghua University said in the People’s Daily report that the admissions for international students will not occupy the resources of domestic students. The number of enrollments for international students in 2017 is the same as previous years, as well as the policies for scholarships.
According to regulations, ethnic Chinese who hold a foreign passport for at least four years and have lived in that country for at least two years can also apply for Chinese universities as international students.
Francesca has spoken with a few Chinese friends about the issue and they seem more annoyed with the fact that Chinese nationals can give up their citizenship and take up a foreign passport in order to come to Tsinghua.
“This is a loophole that Tsinghua should address, as it is unfair to other Chinese students
way thhrough gaokao to gain admission to Tsinghua,” she said. As for ensuring education fairness for domestic and foreign stuudents, Stanley D. Nel, vice president of internaational relations at the University of San Franciisco, who is responsible for admissions in China a, said for their school, international students arre extremely important, because they enrich classsroom discussions with their diverse experiiences and perspectives.
“Chinese universities s have to make the case that the overall quality o one, including Chinesef education for everyby having foreigners in tthe class,” he said.
He said the real probllem with this question is that it assumes a zero-sum game. It conceptualizes education n as a finite commodity to be handed out by univversities. It completely ignores the role of studeents in educating themselves through active parrticipation, and thus misses how much foreiggn students can contribute to the education of thheir classmates.
Attracting high-qualityy students
According to the 2016 6 Report on the Development of Chinese Studdents Studying Abroad issued by Center for Chiina and Globalization, over the past 10 years, thhe number of foreign students coming to Chinna has been steadily increasing under the Onne Belt and One Road initiative and a passion ffor Chinese language learning.
The report said in 2015, the number of foreign students reachedd around 398,000; most of them are from SSouth Korea, the US, Thailand, Pakistan, Indiia, Russia, Indonesia, Japan and France.
However, over the past three years, there has been a drop in the growtth rate, including stu-
dents from Australia and the US. In addition, China’s ratio of international students, coming in at 0.46 percent, is also the lowest among eight top destinations for studying abroad, including Australia and the UK, the report said.
Rather than putting too much focus on increasing the number of students, the Ministry of Education (MOE) and Chinese universities are making moves to focus more on quality of international students and their education.
In 2016, MOE launched the overseas education quality certification system to evaluate and improve schools’ overseas education quality, according to a March report of learning.sohu. com, an education news portal.
Besides Tsinghua, some schools, such as Peking University and Renda, also changed their traditional admission policies into a more international process.
Tim, a Malaysian Chinese who has taken part in the admission processes of Peking University in 2015, recalled that the competition was fierce. The school has a very high requirement on academic records. He also submitted a resume, extracurricular activities introductions and three recommendation letters. After this, an admission group of 10 professors flew abroad for three rounds of interviews, edu. qq.com reported in 2015. “The whole process is reasonable and fair,” Tim said.
Mak also found that over the past few years, Renda began to arrange interviews and some Malaysians failed even though they spoke Chinese well.
Another way to attract international students is enlarging the scale of government-funded scholarships by launching different programs.
The statistics from MOE issued on March 1 showed that in 2016, around 49,000 international students were awarded governmentfunded scholarships, which accounted for 11 percent of all international students. Students from China’s surrounding countries and countries that are involved in B&R initiative can enjoy preferential admissions policies and scholarships, said the sohu report.
The way forward
International students and admissions officers think that schools and governments can establish a more scientific evaluation system, expand publicity and take on education reforms such as improving the quality of teaching in English, which can help better select and attract more high-quality students from overseas. Francesca thinks that at this stage, with foreigners still only making up a small number of students at Chinese universities, the requirements should not be too strict. Yet, it is still important to have requirements that will ensure that only those who are dedicated to studying and learning about China will be admitted by top Chinese universities. “Maybe adding an interview compo- nent would be good,” she said.
Nel also said he particularly liked the required interview, which he assumed would do more than simply test Chinese proficiency, but gives a more in-depth evaluation of candidates’ strengths and weaknesses.
Talking about the reasons why some students do not want to come to China to study, he said many Western parents and students are concerned about air pollution in China. His own university is having difficulty finding students who want to study abroad in Beijing, for example, because of all the reports and pictures of air pollution in the capital. Second, there is a widely held belief that Chinese education relies too much on memorization.
Nel suggests if Chinese universities want to attract top talent, they will have to start recruiting seriously in the West.
“This means producing professional marketing materials that dispel myths about Chinese education and speak to its strengths, particularly at the elite institutions. They should also consider sending specially trained recruiters to college fairs abroad and to select high schools and universities, just as American universities recruit in China. And, of course, they will have to offer excellent scholarships.”
Francesca thinks the power of word of mouth is important. Ensuring that campus and academic life are interesting and inclusive for students will allow universities to see more international students wishing to come to China.
“To do this, Chinese universities need to focus on the quality of teaching in English to international students, as well as ways to better integrate Chinese and international students. I still feel that there is a quite a gap between international and Chinese students that needs to be addressed,” she said.
Some Chinese universities make changes in admission reformation to attract more high-quality international students.Photo: IC
International students and admission administration suggest that schools launch a more reasonable evaluation system, engage in more publicity and improve the quality of teaching in English to better select and attract high-quality international students. Inset: Tsinghua University’s campus.