Bidding War for Bright Students Raises Concerns

Just after the end of the National College Entrance Examination, which falls in July each year, many Chinese colleges and universities started costly campaigns to lure top graduates from high schools. Harbin Polytechnical University has announced that it will grant academically distinguished freshmen special scholarships worth up to 50,000 yuan, the highest ever in Chinese colleges. Tianjin University has also decided to give big awards to top students who choose the university above others. In addition, the university has also promised to put 120 freshmen into an “advanced class,” in which the students can choose whatever major they like.

Such a phenomenon has become so prevailing in the country that it has caused a heated debate on whether it is proper for colleges to attract top students with such incentives as high scholarships and other preferential treatments.

While some believe that such actions conform to the international practice of luring outstanding students with scholarships and shows how desperately the colleges need talented students, others think that the hefty scholarships are actually a publicity campaign for the colleges. In addition, many also believe that the colleges should put more resources in improving their teaching standards rather than on enrolling better students.

“It is inevitable for good students to get into prestigious schools, but not for them to get the highest score in the college entrance examination,” an official at Renmin University of China said. Last year, the university enrolled a student who gained the highest score in the college entrance examination in Henan Province. However, the student received no reward from the university at all. Such is the so-called “cooling treatment” given to top students by some colleges, which are averse to the practice of getting top students by awarding them generously.

Stop the Awarding

Yan Kaili (Deputy Director of the Higher Education Department of Shanghai Institute of Education Science): Luring top students with financial incentives shows that colleges are really thirsty for talented students. And there is nothing wrong with this since it is an international practice to attract academically distinguished students with scholarships. However, excessively high awards will create many negative impacts on the students. In addition, this will also encourage the tendency of regarding high grades as the most important thing among middle school teachers and parents, hence set back the ongoing education reform which advocates more emphasis on training students’ coping skills. On the part of the colleges, the high awards can easily lead to vicious competition that will bring them excessive financial burdens.

On the other hand, students normally pay more attention to the college’s prestige, instead of its scholarships, when choosing colleges. Unlike jobs, education as an investment focuses on returns to be generated after leaving the school, instead of in the school. I have also noticed that the colleges that lure students with high awards normally are not the top-notch ones. No matter how high a scholarship these colleges promise, they may still have difficulties enrolling top students. So I think the colleges are probably using high scholarships as a means to seek publicity during the student-enrolling season.

Anyway, I think the colleges should pay more attention to improving their teaching quality than to enrolling students. A college’s prestige depends on the qualities of the teachers and the teaching. If colleges can build a positive teaching and research atmosphere for students’ academic advancement, they will definitely be able to attract a large number of top students. Otherwise, the colleges will remain obscure even if they can manage to get a few top students. These colleges might actually ruin the future of the exceptional students. As a Chinese saying goes, the phoenix that falls into a chicken coop will turn into a chicken too.

Prof. Yang Dongping (an education expert): Awarding students in such a way will lend too much commercial color to education, and thereby doing no good either to the training of talented students or the images of the colleges. The maturing of talents is very complicated, so is the building of a great college, which cannot be achieved overnight just by publicizing themselves. The more outstanding the students are, the higher requirements for the quality of training will be. Given this, the colleges should put more resources in raising the teaching quality. In addition, what can one examination result suggest? How big a difference is it between a score of 600 and a score of 620? Excessively awarding students with high scores will just encourage the tendency of excessive pursuit for high scores among students. It’s true that Western colleges have also set up scholarships to draw students. However, the scholarships are granted in accordance with the student’s comprehensive performances, instead of merely the grades.

A research team led by Fang Zaoben, Miao Baiqi and other statistical experts: After researching the evaluation system for the quality of college education with the help of the latest statistical methods and on the basis of rich data and facts, we have proven that it is wrong to think that those with a high score in the college entrance examination will also perform well after entering college. We believe that the score for the college entrance examination, when surpassing a certain level, will not be the major factor deciding a student’s academic performance any more. Instead, a student’s level of diligence and his or her attitude toward studying will become decisive. Given this, we suggest that colleges stop focusing on enrolling the top students and pay more attention to their own special requirements.

In recent years, evaluations have been conducted on teaching quality, which have greatly promoted the sound progress of institutions of higher education. However, most of these evaluations just focus on qualitative analysis and ignore the more objective quantitative analysis, thus leading to some ambiguous understanding of the evaluating criteria.

One well known fact is that the quality of new students is a crucial factor deciding the education quality of a school. Out of such concern, many colleges have been competing to draw the most talented students by raising the amount of scholarships for new students, setting up scholarships in middle schools or pledging other preferential treatments. Unfortunately, many colleges have ignored some crucial problems, which include: How high the college should raise the entrance hurdle so as to guarantee the overall quality of the new students? How many test subjects should be counted in to evaluate the student’s performance? What is the relationship between a student’s score in the college entrance examination and his or her academic performance in the college?

Our research shows that students whose scores in the college entrance examination fall in a certain range will start out at the same level in their college education. Here is the result of a sequential sample survey conducted in China University of Science and Technology. The new students in the university are divided up into two major groups by the “demarcation line” of 601 marks. In the same group, the score in the college entrance examination no longer plays a deciding role and the academic performance is mainly decided by the level of diligence and the method of study. For instance, students who have entered the university with a score of 605 have an average score of 90 for mathematics, English and other major courses in the college, which is roughly the same as students who have entered with a score of 660.

The research also shows that the “demarcation line” varies for different colleges since they all have different curriculums and requirements. Given this, colleges should try to determine their own “demarcation line” so as to set up entrance hurdles at appropriate levels and ensure the overall quality of new students. They should not just put their eyes on a few students with high scores from the college entrance examination, since it will create abnormal fluctuations in the quality of the new students.

This Is Not Excessive

Zhang Bingkui (Director of the Students Work Department of Harbin Polytechnical University): The awards will enable outstanding students from poor families to enter first-class colleges. In the meantime, it can also satisfy the colleges’ needs to train high-quality talent. Only with a source of high-quality students can we produce more outstanding scientists, entrepreneurs and other professionals. I think the high scholarships are very attractive to top students, especially those from families in financial difficulties.

Zhang Mingjun (a student): The awards at least show society’s concern over education and will stimulate other students to work hard. Getting top students with high scholarships is pretty much the same as hiring professionals or doctoral graduates with promises of high pay, which, instead of drawing criticism, has been welcomed by society. Therefore I don’t think it is something excessive to attract top students with financial incentives.

Liu Zehou (a teacher): The market economy has influenced every individual’s behavior and thinking. This is really an era of knowledge economy. Many of our children in the mountainous areas have been impressed by what Chen Zhangliang (vice president of Peking University) said in a CCTV ad— “In this society, you can get nowhere without knowledge.” I feel that heavily awarding top students will help establish in society the concept that “knowledge is power, and knowledge is wealth,” which is beneficial to social progress and sound growth of students.

Liu Wei (a company employee): This represents a kind of progress. Each year thousands of Chinese students go to study in the United States. But few of them pay their own way, most of the students are supported by scholarships offered by American universities. But in China, how many universities can afford this to attract really talented students?

Wu Ming (a high school graduate): Each year, lots of high school graduates here apply for teachers colleges and military academies. They do this mainly out of financial concerns, because these schools require little tuition and grant scholarships to every student. Now that the other regular colleges have set up high scholarships for freshmen, we are really interested in it.

Hu Weimin (a Netizen): High awards are good news for distinguished students from poor families. I think this should be promoted.

Steven (a Netizen): As a teacher I think it is necessary to award the top students properly. Awarding is a kind of recognition of the top students’ values, and a way to set good examples for other students. When other students see a student who loves studying and knowledge is awarded, they will understand that it is good to love studying and knowledge. This will eventually create a widespread love for studying and knowledge in society.

However, the awarding should be conducted properly in accordance with the varying conditions in different places and for different students. For those top students from really poor families, we may give them a higher award, which preferably should be able to sustain them throughout the college years. For other better-off top students, we may just give them a sum that is enough to set a good example in society. The point is that the amount of the award is not important, what is important is that the award can set an example in society.

(Beijing Review 08/16/2001)

In This Series

The ‘Unbearable’ Examination



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