Say 'no' to Chinese universities

09:47, March 08, 2010      

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Author Wu Biwen in her study at her Beijing home last month. Photo: Courtesy of Wu Biwen

As China's universities struggle to establish themselves on the world stage as top tier learning institutions, Wu Biwen, president of China Red Cross Press and a member of Chinese Writers'Association, addresses key hurdles and exposes the inadequacies of the Chinese education system in her latest book Say No To Chinese University released by the Harbin Publishing House recently.

The author of numerous books exploring Chinese education, Wu conducted dozens of interviews and six years of research and to compile a general analysis on the present condition of education, its drawbacks and the reform that is necessary to help China's universities rise among the world's academic institutions.

How should we understand "no" in the book's title?

Chinese colleges, despite their branding and groomed campuses, are completely empty in substance. This "No" expresses the lack of effectiveness in Chinese higher education, but at the same time urging a thorough reform to take place soon. I hope to get people thinking about how to solve the problems of China's universities by raising awareness.

What are the main problems China's universities are facing?

Though schools have been changing and developing, there are still some blaring problems that haven't been corrected.

First off, the traditional view Chinese hold of college education that a degree equals a good job needs to change. The fact is that universities are overcrowded and white-collar jobs scarce, while vocational education still remains underdeveloped.

Second, the current education techniques in use are ineffective, which merely imitate the high school lecture format; students passively listen and participate little.

In addition, cases of academic plagiarism are common among professors and students, which damages the credibility of Chinese universities as research institutions.

We also need to revamp university administration. The number of administrative staff has surpassed that of teachers, resulting in a bureaucracy that is bloated, inefficient and out of touch with the needs of students.

What would make an ideal university?

It must have free atmosphere in which teachers and students can fully represent themselves as individuals. University should not be a place to decide the rest of one's life, but rather a stop for enriching personal growth and experience.

How can China achieve this?

The problem is, most teachers at Chinese universities are simply not educators. Many rely heavily on lecturing, because it's easier and less time consuming. But this promotes passive learning among students, which in turn equals a passive attitude. We should encourage teachers to innovate in the classroom and make their lessons more interactive.

Also, we need to foster vocational education rather than look down upon it, as students from voca-tional schools are skilled laborers, a valuable asset.

Salaries also need to reflect this societal value, a way to decrease the income gap between tradesman and university grads.

Furthermore, schools need to stress academic ethics. The current teacher evaluation system focuses on the number of published academic articles rather than teaching quality. As a result, many put more energy into writing papers and research than preparing lesson plans for students.

We need to get rid of this quota system; if teachers cannot publish enough, cases of plagiarism increase to supplement research. The fact that there is no established system of recourse in place for dealing with academic misconduct exasperates the problem.

Source: Global TImes
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