2021-06-15 10:29:02

A Chinese study abroad agency in Shenzhen has been accused of encouraging research that exploits marginalized groups by allowing prospective students to enroll in such field research only as a means to embellish their college admissions essays and resumes.

On June 8, HEC unveiled a program in which students, for a fee of 15,800 yuan ($2,500), would be able to study the lives of the city’s female factory workers through a five-day field research trip alongside a Ph.D. candidate. Students would leave the experience with an academic report, as well as a recommendation letter and certificate of participation, which they could then use for college admissions.

On Wednesday, the Ph.D. candidate named in the HEC program said she wasn’t aware of such an association and her name had been used without consent, throwing the study abroad agency’s credibility into question.

Sixth Tone was unable to contact HEC for a response, though the agency said in a statement that many people may have “misunderstood” their motives behind the program. HEC said it intends to improve the students’ research capabilities through such initiatives, but in the wake of the current controversy will not take in any participants.

However, many online were quick to note that the study abroad agency was also capitalizing on a marginalized group, while not adhering to the basic ethical requirements for producing such academic reports. Some social media users also called out study abroad agencies more broadly for crafting false impressions in students’ resumes.

“How nasty are you? The lives of other people won’t be your foot in the door for college applications!” wrote one user on microblogging platform Weibo.

“After applying for college, many would never return to whatever they had participated in,” read another comment under a related post.

With hundreds of thousands of Chinese students preparing for higher education abroad, helping prospective scholars get into reputed schools has turned into a lucrative business worth hundreds of billions of yuan. While some agencies provide admissions guidance, others go a step further by offering various volunteering opportunities — especially for social justice and gender-related topics — that may get their applications noticed, or even indulging in fraud by ghostwriting essays or providing fake recommendation letters.

Veronica Wang, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Cambridge and founder of online talk show Academic Bird, told Sixth Tone that study abroad agencies utilizing this “diversity strategy” to help students nab university offers is the ultimate result of global market-oriented higher education. Referring to the HEC campaign, she added though it may look like they’re wanting to research the struggles of the female workers, by doing so without any expertise, the agencies are only helping the students paying them.

“You can see the advertisement post of the study abroad agency is conflicted,” she said. “At first they said the (research project) is to help others, but in the end it is all about how students can take advantage of it,” said Wang. “It’s completely a raid on others.”

Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

(Header image: People interact during an international education fair in Beijing, May 7, 2016. People Visual)