The culture of the Chinese university
Working at a Chinese university I am frequently reminded of the foreign perceptions - it seems to be well known that:
- plagiarism is rife
- students often cheat in exams (and even if they don't, everyone gets a pass)
- students are only interested in making money (the majority are doing commerce)
- the academic standards are way below those in the West.
I'd like to invite some discussion about this. I will open with an observation that there is another Chinese university culture out there.
Yesterday I was approached to attend an event celebrating 'Philosophy Day' - a series of events held over a fortnight. Tonight's topic:
无头女人幻觉： 现象与论证 - 讲座人： 周师，副教授，博士。*
It seems that not everyone is doing commerce. And I wonder if there is the same debate we have in the West about the taxpayers money being spent on frivolous research?
Many of our poddies work in Chinese universities and other educational institutions - I hope you will join in with comments.
* Puzzled by this, even after consulting my dictionary, I asked an English major if they could perhaps explain in simple terms what is going on tonight. They read it carefully and then said to me .."I have no idea."
xiao_liangNovember 17, 2010, 10:22 AM
I don't work at a university, but the headless woman illusion was this:
Also, maybe the myth about Chinese university is perpetuated among the university community? I was under the impression that they didn't have to work as hard as they did at school (the particular phrase I'd heard was, "because university students have so much free time"), but plagiarism, rife cheating, and everyone passes... never heard anything like that.
Well done Xiao_liang.
is from an article which I think was probably the original philosophy article to use the headless woman illusion as a model to explain [defend] materialism.
In my experience teaching English at a Chinese university, plagiarism and cheating are common, and though you can fail a student, you must then give him a make up test until he passes. This is annoying, so most teachers pass the students. However, if you fail a senior, this can delay his graduation... until they make up the exam and get a passing grade
Wow, my philosophy is 很差; as I said to xiao_liang I thought that this was a reference to bald women. Will investigate further - that article looks like intensive reading! Well I definitely won't be going tomorrow night - I can't even follow the title of the lecture.
Interesting that you have heard that 'university students have so much free time'. My criticism of the system is that they have just the reverse - their time is totally occupied (idle hands & the devil's work??). Their contact hours are way more than in Australia - they never have quite enough time to study, read or do the work I set them. My students typically have to try to juggle up to ten subjects - a kind of madness. Of course none are done particularly well, that is my point. It is quite different to our system in the West, that's for sure.
'if you fail a senior'
I wasn't aware that seniors (is that 大四?) take English courses, unless they are English majors. At my university they take English courses only in first and in some cases second year.
'plagiarism and cheating are common'
You have to be careful running these together - plagiarism is a relatively modern concept whereas cheating has been around since time began, hey? Also, plagiarism is a distinctly Western concept (that is still defined differently from place to place). Nevertheless it is a concept that the rest of the world has to learn about if they want to study at Western universities.
abelleNovember 17, 2010, 10:51 AM
I'm very interested to find out about the Mainland Chinese university culture. The teachers at my language school are mostly from Taiwan and so I have heard stories about their university student life --they are very serious and work their butts off. My current Chinese language teacher is a graduate of Beijing University and was an instructor there before immigrating to the US 20 years ago. So the information she tells me is very, very dated. My son is a college freshman, but US university life is another story. One of my teachers from Taiwan who also studied at a US university thinks that American students are lazy compared to Taiwan students. For example, she said that US student buy prepared research papers off the Internet. I wanted to defend US students, but then I think about my son and his fellow students who chose their particular university based on the fact that skiing/snowboarding resorts are nearby and they can spend their weekends on the mountain. I bet that never happens in China!
I can't speak about Taiwan because I have never been there, and I won't even bother to say all American students are angels, but honestly, I have been shocked at how much cheating happens in mainland China. From my experience, the older they are, the more they cheat. I had an MBA class. One woman blatantly came in and took a test for another student. It was so obvious. She didn't think I would care. When I reported it, she gave me a sob story about how she didn't think it was wrong. She thought she was helping a friend.
Bodawei and I have debated this before, but my opinion remains unchanged. Lots of cheating in China. That said... lots of hard studying too by many if not all of the students. Passing the university entrance exam is one thing that guanxi (normally) doesn't help someone succeed in China. Hence, no way around it--gotta study.
You shouldnt report people for cheating for 2 reasons - 1) It is extremely lame.
2) you shouldn't mess with another person's rice bowl in Asia b/c they could mess you up. If someone reported on me for cheating I would wait a few years and then ruin their lives. 君子报仇十年不完。
Christ I really did do a ton of cheating in college hahaha
ahh the good old days.
xiaophilNovember 17, 2010, 01:26 PM
Speaking of philosophy, I talked to some American students who are studying philosophy in Shanghai. I asked them how it was going. One said the content was easy. It was just following along in class in Chinese and writing papers in Chinese that was hard. I don't know if that was representative of what most think or not.
One time I gave a speech for Foreign Language Week at the university I worked at. I was surprised at how many students showed up. Then I found out that it was mandatory. Sigh.
Don't feel too bad about that (attendance) - I teach the same course twice - first to a group for which it is compulsory, second to a group for which the course is an elective. Attendance at the elective class is consistently higher than at the compulsory one. So my view is they came because they wanted to hear you - they don't generally take any notice of 'compulsory' attendance. (In fact I think some really resent the compulsory class.)
waiguorenNovember 18, 2010, 12:28 AM
I used to work at a University, teaching commerce subjects (Marketing & Management), and yes, at first, it did seem that cheating was rife, and yes, students did cheat in exams.
This is largely cultural, as knowledge in China is something that should be shared (just look at the rip-off coffee chains 'SPR', or Mr. Li Beef Noodles, for example) rather than hoarded away by a select few. It would seem that 'intellectual property' doesn't exist in China. Is it even possible to buy a legitimate DVD?
Rather than working against it, and declaring that 'cheating is bad' I learnt to 'go with the flow' and realise that yes, students will invariably cheat. The way I got around it was to include things like definitions, and questions with standard answers, which they could memorise and cheat, but also to include things like case studies, or asking for their opinion, on a certain topic or issue, which many found 'difficult'. To try and get them to form their 'own' opinion, but also to use the theory as well.
I'm not sure if the idea of "knowledge in China [being] something [that] should be shared" explains cheating at tests, or even having someone take the test for you.
The path to success in China has been through testing. In the earlier days of China, you had to take an examination showing a solid foundation (and verbatim knowledge) of the Classics to become an official. The better you scored, the better your career turned out (mostly).
Today, you've got the Gaokao, a test that puts the burden on kids to seal their academic and professional fates at an early age.
Perhaps the rampant cheating is more a coping mechanism in a society that places such emphasis on (rote) tests, more than a manifestation of some lofty ideal of shared knowledge.
Perhaps, I'm by no means an expert on the issue.
But can a system of standardised tests that occurred thousands(?) of years ago, still form the model of education in China today?
And if it can, why does it still persist? And what is the alternative?