The Problem With Chinese Universities? Not Enough Dropouts

Zhang Duanhong:

China’s education system is well-known for its extreme workloads and merciless, test-centric approach to weeding out students. Beginning as early as elementary school, young Chinese find themselves caught up in a cutthroat competition for a precious spot at one of the country’s top universities. Those that succeed are rewarded with what amounts to a vacation: China’s undergraduate programs are notorious for low standards and easy classes — and once you’re in, you’re practically guaranteed a degree.

The fat years may finally be over, however. Last year, Chen Baosheng — China’s Minister of Education — proposed an end to the “exhausting high school, carefree university” paradigm, in which university life is treated as a reward for making it through the rigors of the country’s college entrance exam, or gaokao. In a speech, Chen called on the country’s universities to push students by raising workloads and standards.

It’s a long-overdue move. Although, generally speaking, China has made considerable progress in improving its undergraduate education programs, there is still a significant quality gap between its tertiary education system and those of countries like the United States or the United Kingdom. To close this gap, China must ask more of both its students and its universities. That means higher standards and stricter graduation requirements, as well as a better system for dealing with students who can’t make the grade.