Controlled by hidden rules: Postgraduate recommendations

By Zhang Ming
0 CommentsPrint E-mail, November 2, 2009
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The School of Economics of Peking University has been in trouble recently. A post on Internet claimed that two students from the school who failed a few subjects were recommended for admission to the postgraduate program. And the post gave the reason that the two students were born in government official families, and their fathers have a deep relationship with some of the leaders of Peking University.

The School of Economics rejected the rumor, explaining that the two students in question had passed all their subjects and deserved to be recommended according to proper regulations. Unfortunately for them, some nosy Internet denizens rounded up members for a "human search engine" and uncovered that the two fathers were in fact top brass government officials in northeast China, as per the aforementioned post. However, the academic scores of the two students were unavailable through any search engine, as their scores are maintained in secrecy by Peking University. Even so, it seems as if the School of Economics has no sincere plans to dissolve the rumor. Thus, the whole thing still remains a mystery, despite the heated debates circulating the Internet.

In truth, not only did the postgraduate recommendation process of Peking University remain in question, but cases of this kind began to mushroom one after another. What easily arouses distrust is that applicants are being recommended according to the agreements they have reached with their universities. Such agreements include that the students to be recommended promise to work for the university while they're working on the master's degree, or go to teach in the rural or remote areas for two years before their working on the master's degree. Since the criteria involved during the process are not transparent and the universities concerned are not willing to make the qualification sheets of the applicants to the public, it is difficult for the public to believe that there are not any tricks going on behind the scenes.

Higher education in China is not the same as it is in the U.S. In the U.S., a master's degree is only a necessary step for pursuing a doctor's degree, which is relatively easy to get and does not necessarily mean higher social status or rewards. In China, however, a master's degree is actually an academic step upwards that carries a social assessment tangibly higher than that of a bachelor's degree. If a staff member with a bachelor's and a staff member with a master's get the same position in a government office, their salaries would be markedly different.

Thus, in China, postgraduate entrance exam is as competitive as a college entrance exam, to some extent. Some key universities have the privilege of recommending their best graduates to further study the postgraduate courses. Normally, such recommendations are supposed to be based on students' academic scores – the higher, the better. Those who do not have satisfactory grades, on the other hand, have to depend on "special" recruitment methods, which are causing the postgraduate recommendation system to steadily deteriorate.

Of course, recommendations solely based on academic scores are not the best method. Academic scores combined with professor's recommendation seem more prudent, as the educators know whether or not a student has adequate academic capacity. Considering China's academic situation, however, some scholars are unfortunately not completely forthright, as there is no supervising academic community. Scholars who commit fraud or corrupt practices do not necessarily receive the punishment they deserve. Furthermore, the bureaucratization of academia is severe nowadays, lending some scholars to behave badly and disregard their prestige. Thus, it might be more advisable that applicants are recommended solely according to their academic scores. Although this method is not completely fair, it is still much better than a deal tainted by an abuse of power and money.

If the School of Economics of Peking University really wants to keep its reputation from getting smeared and clear away the scandal and gossip, the only thing they can do is to stop the clandestine methods of postgraduate recommendation. Open all applicants' data sheets and make all teachers and students evaluate their qualifications or put the matter to a vote. Otherwise, the process will still continue to be controlled by hidden rules. The truth cannot be concealed from the students, even if the school authority refuses to open the data sheets of the selected few.

(This blog was first published in Chinese on October 27 and translated into English by Ni Yuanjin.)


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