Presidents of leading Chinese universities on Friday blasted the country's rampant academic misconduct, blaming a ridiculous research assessment system and declining ethical standards.
"Overall academic ethics have hit rock bottom," Zhu Qingshi, president of Chinese Science and Technology University, told Chinese and foreign university heads in Shanghai for the week-long University Presidents Forum.
He said most Chinese postgraduates were so desperate to fill the quota of published theses that they often missed opportunities to conduct research.
Many Chinese universities require their postgraduates to publish a requisite number of research papers in academic journals to qualify for a masters or a doctoral degree.
"Some Ph.D candidates say they have published 30 or 40 papers in two years, which are flagrant lies," Zhu said, adding that most of these papers were plagiarized and poorly.
Zhu is considered outspoken and upright in academic circles, and his critical remarks on China's education system have previously caused consternation in Ministry of Education.
An official with the ministry sat silently through the speech and applauded with other audience members at the end.
The "thesis-publishing worship" was seen in other fields, Zhu said. For example, a teacher or a university could not be ranked "Good" by the education authority without an appropriate number of research papers published in key academic journals.
The Education Ministry would cut funding for universities that failed the evaluation, pushing them into the headlong pursuit of showcase projects.
"Not a single university is free from falsification in the evaluation," said Li Peigen, president of Central China University of Science and Technology, echoing Zhu's concerns.
Li's comment set off a long applause among the audience.
"Someone has finally spoken out," said an audience member.
"In the face of globalization, China must nurture innovative talent, but the current evaluation system does nothing to help," Li said.
Ji Baocheng, president of the People's University, said the recent spate of academic frauds reflected the loss of social morality and credibility.
"The whole of society is in a desperate pursuit of profit. The academic frauds exposed in higher education are the down side of this phenomenon," Li said.
A handful of Chinese researchers have been sacked in recent months amid falsification scandals, including Chen Jin, a former dean of the Micro-electronics School at Shanghai Jiaotong University, Yang Jie, former director of the Life Science and Technology Institute, and Liu Hui, professor and assistant to the director of the medical school of the prestigious Tsinghua University.