China to raise the bar for teachers, students in bid to build world-class higher education
Chinese authorities have mapped out policies to raise the bar for teaching and college graduation, in a bid to “build world-class higher education with Chinese characteristics by 2035.”

The Ministry of Education has recently released an “opinion” on “expediting construction of quality higher education to improve capabilities in talent cultivation comprehensively,” reported the state-run Guangming Daily, revealing that all colleges and universities nationwide would take “collective actions” to heighten assessment, abolish the old system which was criticized for allowing all students to muddle through, and readjust professors’ appraisal methods.

It’s noted by the “opinion” that the general target of the new policies is to build an array of big-league universities by 2035, which will help China establish distinctive and world-class higher education. The proposal to reinforce higher education which has long been known to be lax was first put forward this June in a national meeting on undergraduate education, and the newly released “opinion” is regarded as a clearer timetable and blueprint for the plan.

“Some students spend most of their time playing video games, sleeping in dormitory or dating. Quite a number of teachers devote much more energy into cultivating themselves instead of their students … the so-called good old days would be gone forever,” Wu Yan, director of the higher education department, Ministry of Education, told the Guangming Daily.

The Huazhong University of Science and Technology in central China’s Wuhan has reportedly degraded 18 undergraduate students with failing grades to junior college degree, drawing widespread public attention and heated discussion on the Chinese social media. Wu Yan said, “The idea for higher education reform is to reasonably “increase burdens”. “(We) should appropriately increase the number of students who could not graduate on schedule. It’s inevitable that a certain number of undergraduate students get knocked out,” he said.

According to Wu, the “adding to burden” policy intends to raise the quality instead of the quantity of curriculum and the goal is to cultivate capabilities of independent thinking.

For a long time, undergraduate education in China has been short on “inspiring interests and potential abilities through learning.” Zhang Duanhong, an associate professor of Tongji University’s higher education institute, previously told the Science Daily that as in high schools, colleges in China still focus on imparting knowledge. “Studying classic works and high-quality class discussion should be emphasized,” he proposed.

The “opinion” has worked out some policies in this direction. For example, college students would be allowed to choose minors by themselves, while customized teaching methods like intelligent classroom, small class, blending learning and flip class would be proactively promoted.

The “opinion” devotes the same level of significance to improve teachers’ abilities to teach, which is known as a common concern for higher education reform these days considering most professors are known to prefer scientific research than teaching.

Chen Baosheng, the education minister, previously complained that a large number of universities tend to highlight their teachers’ educational background, papers published and overseas learning or teaching experiences. Wu Yan said the new policy has decided to apply a one-vote veto approach in appraising the teaching staff.

With stricter policies in place to rein in the misconduct of professors, stories about such behavior have been popping out. The most high-profile case is an investigation into Liang Ying, a professor with the Nanjing University who was recently found guilty of academic fraud and “neglect of teaching”.

Liang Ying, 39, a professor in sociology, was exposed by the China Youth Daily, a newspaper run by the Communist Youth League, to have at least plagiarized in 15 of her papers. Meanwhile, she was put under investigation because her students filed collective complaint claiming the professor to often toy with cell phones, eat snacks in her classes besides not showing up, leaving early, and letting her father to substitute her.

Liang later told, a Shanghai-based portal, that she had submitted resignation because she could not stand the “malicious attacks” of some colleagues, students and media besides the health reasons.

A professor who didn’t want to be named told the media that the “veto” system had already been adopted by his college, although its effect was limited. “We are still trying our best to gain advantage in scientific research. For teaching a class, you get paid 200 yuan allowance, while for publishing a paper, you get paid 800 yuan and this would also help with the promotion to higher posts. With such divergence in rewards, the new plan is unlikely to work out,” he said.

The embattled professor Liang is a case in point. Although long criticized by her students for being irresponsible and negligent in her teaching work, Liang published over 120 Chinese papers over the past several years which had helped in her efforts to apply for degrees, gaining access to scientific research funds and be selected into multiple influential talent programs. A colleague of her told the China Youth Daily that she had been given all titles possible for a liberal arts professor of her age.

Zhang Duanhong proposed to adopt more incentive and restrictive policies that’re teaching oriented, because at the current stage, most college teachers have to focus on their research work in a bid to maximize their individual income.   


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