2017-01-03 13:05:11

With spring semester just around the corner, it’s course registration time in China, and some students have spied a chance to make a quick buck.

Popular courses fill up quickly, and students who manage to secure a place have found that those who weren’t so lucky are willing to pay for their place in class. The trading floors for course registration are online chat rooms specifically set up for this purpose.

“Students are selling course places in a QQ group,” Natalie Song, a student at Southwestern University of Finance and Economics (SUFE) in China’s Southwestern Sichuan Province, told Sixth Tone. Song and other interviewees were unwilling to give their full Chinese name for fear of being identified by their school.

In a screenshot posted to microblog platform Weibo on Friday, a “SUFE course trading group” on messaging platform QQ advertised starting bids of 40 yuan ($6).

Unstable college websites means course enrollment can be a question of being lucky enough to register before the site becomes unusable. “Some courses are popular because the teacher is friendly or it is easier to get a high score,” said Vicente Chen, a sophomore at Xiamen Institute of Technology in eastern China’s Fujian province. “Demand exceeds supply for these popular courses, and the enrollment system crashes as a result.”

In most Chinese colleges, there is an enrollment grace period in which students can register for and drop classes. When two students agree to the sale of a spot in a popular course, the vendor will drop his or her registration at an agreed-upon time, allowing the buyer to quickly claim the open slot.

Many college students from places around China have chimed in on Weibo to say that course selling also happens at their college.

The practice was also reported in Nanjing, capital of Jiangsu province in eastern China. Local newspaper Modern Express reported Thursday that a student posted a list of popular courses “for sale” in a QQ group chat. The prices ranged from 50 to 200 yuan.

“The school releases course places step by step, starting from the senior year,” Christoph Chen, a sophomore student at the college in question, Nanjing Normal University, told Sixth Tone, “If a senior student has got enough credits, they can register for extra courses and sell them.”

“I think trading courses is okay, as long as the two parties involved are acting willingly,” said Chen, of no relation to Vicente Chen.

It’s not uncommon for students in China to pay to make college life more comfortable. In October 2016, students were found to be paying classmates to fulfill their physical exercise requirements. It’s easy enough to find essay writing services online or pay for the publication of an article, and there are even students who, for the right price, will sit in class and answer roll call for absent students.

In response to the course trading business, Southwestern University of Finance and Economics has adjusted its enrollment rules by separating the periods in which students can enroll and drop courses, making trading impossible. Nanjing Normal University said it will circulate a notice of criticism if any student is found to be selling course places, according to the Modern Express. 

Christoph Chen told Sixth Tone that he had not seen any such notices.

(Header image: Students are all ears in class at a college in Shanghai, Sept. 7, 2005. Lu Haitao/Sixth Tone)