China’s graduate education system has come under fire recently for laying too much emphasis on numbers and publications rather than on the process of learning and research, impeding valuable national educational progress, according to the National Library of China’s curator, Ren Jiyu.
In an interview with the People’s Daily, Ren Jiyu has said that graduate education in China has gone astray by demanding that students publish more, and that there is an imbalance in the numbers of tutors to students. This, he says, impairs graduate students’ ability to progress and, in turn, affects the national educational progress.
According to this view, the current graduate education code over emphasizes quantified evaluation. For example, a liberal arts graduate is required to publish two treatises on “core periodicals” and write a degree dissertation of no less than 100,000 Chinese characters to obtain a degree. Harsh requirements like this make it very hard for students to concentrate on their specific study. Students often start their combination of papers before they get properly familiar with their subject. Often this means they avoid primary texts, and inevitably can mean that they plagiarize, the thesis can ending up a work of some fiction.
Ren Jiyu goes on to say that it is not uncommon for some graduate students to contract editors of academic publications through tutor connections in an effort to publish, some even writing anonymous letters of recommendations or publishing anonymous reviews to increase their chances. In the past, he points out, masters of an academic discipline would work and re-work arguments until they were sure they were good enough for publication. Now, Ren says, because of the size of each thesis, the quality is likely to be somewhat watered-down:
“If all of the tens of thousands of master’s and doctoral students are supposed to publish theses on 'core periodicals,' how much space will be enough? If every doctoral dissertation has around 100,000 Chinese characters, how can its author avoid poor quality and plagiarism?”
Humanity and social science subjects, such as history and philosophy, often have lengthy research topics that can turn out to be very time-consuming and, because of the problem of the restrictive nature of its empirical research, problematic for the student in the current educational climate. Ren suggests that greater flexibility and more effective means should be open to the students of liberal arts subjects.
“Many renowned professors of the past, such as Fung Yu-Lan, felt very tired at the end of the academic year, even though they may have instructed just one student in that period. This style of personal passing on of knowledge is no doubt outdated, but how can those tutors manage now to instruct 10 graduate students? Can they guarantee their students academic standards anymore?”
He says that today postgrad students, including those taking science and technology degrees, can be too pragmatic. They don’t always seek a good school for their own interests but for the future it will afford them, which he understands means money. A lack of academic ambition and interests, and a love of the subject, has contributed to the rarity of outstanding scholarship in many fields, he adds.
According to Ren, the future of academic prosperity, in any discipline, depends on more than funds and the living standards of the staff and students of the colleges; it depends on re-thinking the existing graduate education system in order to build a more favorable environment for the growth of young researchers.
(人民日报 [People’s Daily], translated for china.org.cn by Chen Chao, February 25, 2003)