Universities’ longstanding leniency in granting bachelor’s degrees to underperforming students is coming to an end, a top education official told Changjiang Daily on Wednesday.
“There will be a certain percentage of students who fail to obtain their bachelor’s degrees,” Wu Yan, head of the Department of Higher Education at China’s national education ministry, confirmed to the Wuhan-based news outlet, following a previous report that 18 four-year students in the city had instead received vocational degrees.
The diplomas of the 18 seniors from Huazhong University of Science and Technology were downgraded from bachelor’s to less-prestigious vocational degrees after the students failed to earn sufficient credits. The demotion was the result of a pilot policy the school implemented last year in a bid to fortify its graduation requirements and guarantee the quality of its education.
From September 2017 to June 2018, a total of 35 lower- and upperclassmen out of the more than 30,000 at the school received “red cards” for failing to meet their minimum credit requirements, while another 210 received “yellow cards” for obtaining a number of credits just over the minimum. Under the school’s new policy, any student receiving one red or two yellow cards is unable to graduate with a bachelor’s degree.
The rule is a novelty in China, where students typically work hardest in the time leading up to the gaokao — the country’s college entrance exam — before settling into a relatively low-pressure environment on university campuses. It has been rare for seniors not to finish school with their expected degrees: If students failed to pass decisive exams, universities would often arrange bailout tests to help them graduate. Some schools even prepared study materials specifically tailored around the tests to ensure that students passed, according to Chinese media reports.
In a notice sent to the country’s universities in August, the education ministry indicated that bailout exams should be canceled entirely, and that schools should be stricter in evaluating students throughout their four years of study.
Earlier this month, the ministry also made public a guideline on improving the quality of education for undergraduates. It said that student evaluations must be closely linked to brief tests held regularly, in addition to less-frequent major exams. Faculty assessments of each student’s “learning process” — a broad concept that encompasses conduct both in and out of the classroom — will also be taken into consideration.
Wu, the education official, approved of the Wuhan university’s enforcement of the regulations, saying China cannot permit “crazy middle and high schools but happy universities,” a reference to the low expectations for college students after years of grueling studying and gaokao preparation. “Spending all your time at university playing video games, dating, or just idling the day away will be a thing of the past,” Wu added. “We will appropriately increase the burden on college students to improve the quality of learning and better foster their ability to think independently.”
With the hashtag “top education official in China confirms the practice of downgrading bachelor’s to vocational degrees” receiving over 14 million views on microblogging platform Weibo, many netizens have expressed surprise at the country’s typically lenient universities now employing such harsh tactics.
“If this happens, what meaning does the gaokao have anymore?” one user asked. “If [students] do something wrong, they should be given chances to redeem themselves. Otherwise, how do we justify putting them through three years of hard work in high school?”
Editor: Layne Flower.
(Header image: Graduates pose for a group photo on the campus of Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan, Hubei province, June 14, 2018. Chu Lin/VCG)