Source: Xin Lijian’s blog, June 27 2012 – http://blog.sina.com.cn/s/blog_48b0011f0102e4b9.html?tj=1
Recent research shows that almost 34% of Chinese people regret entering university. 51% of the respondents claim they did not get useful knowledge there. What is more interesting, those regretting include not only undergraduate students, but also those with a Master and even a PhD degree.
Why do they say that? What do the students do during those 4 years, if not study? In short, this is how the students’ situation look like: 30% of their time and energy is wasted on political courses as well as other useless classes. 30 % of their effort is spent studying English and preparing for exams. The remaining 40% of time include dating, social life and all the stuff that makes you busy. That means the students’ youth is practically wasted. The 4 years pass like a dream and leave you without any solid education.
Pessimists say that the university is like a “ Fortress Besieged” . Those who never attended it can only imagine its attractions and temptations, while those who actually stay there lead rather uninteresting and dull life. Young people enter university with high hopes that remain unfulfilled till graduation.
We have to admit: talent and mediocrity often takes the same way. To finish University, or to be finished by University – there is no single factor that decides about this. However, there are more and more dilemmas and paradoxes attracting the public attention to this issue.
As a matter of fact, university completely negates its values – it does not help students after graduation in any way. From the traditional point of view, the university should give the students an ability to settle down with a bright future ahead. This idea, originated in last century as “education for elites”, focuses mainly on education as an intellectual instrument. Unfortunately, many people are still attached to this attitude, appreciating its functionality, simplicity and practical aspects. However, according to the modern theory, in order to popularize higher education among society, universities should not only focus on transferring knowledge and training skills, but also use a rich cultural background.
People keep asking: though the understanding of university education can vary, and its values may not influence every student, yet all in all, the students learn what the school decides, so how could students that did not learn anything still graduate?
Comparing American and Chinese education systems, one might say they are both somewhat ineffective – the Chinese one because of the low enrollment rate, the American one due to the low graduation rate. It is quite easy to attend college in the U.S., as long as you graduate from the high school. However, once you enter university, you must study. The threshold is relatively low, so studying at university is quite common, but it is also easy to drop out. According to the statistics, the dropout rate after the first year is about 25%. Also a lot of students procrastinate their graduation, extending the study period from 4 to 5-6 years. Therefore, the graduation rate at 30 American universities is rarely higher than 80%, and in the 21st century, it has fallen down to as low as 60%. That means that almost half of the students do not graduate. What to do then? Keep on studying. In theory, you can study at an American university all life long, until you collect the necessary amount of credits and only then can you get a degree. Do you know that American students do not consider their studies useless?
Simply speaking, the quality of knowledge taught at university is the input into society – that also bears the responsibility. The American universities principle is: “wide entry, narrow exit” – they have a low threshold, however the final exam is very hard – in order to obtain a degree, one must have good grades. Chinese students already suffered a lot to enter university. The college entrance exam is often called “the most brutal battle”. Once admitted, the student will be fine. No need to think ahead – the graduation exam is easy, the final thesis is often plagiarized (anyway, nobody cares about it). That is “narrow entrance, wide exit”. It is proved – “narrow entrance, wide exit” or “wide entry, narrow exit” – this makes a huge difference.
Different environments result in different ways of life. Different ways of life result in different products. You can say that Chinese universities suffer from a holistic illness. The problem of second- and third- tier universities are the limited resources, more or less the same as the top ones. The learning abilities of the students of the two top ones, Tsinghua University and Beijing University, their average performance after graduation is also quite good. Only occasionally there are some losers. But even after graduation from the best universities, lots of people go abroad for further studies. Statistics show that 70% of the best graduates from Chengdu Tsinghua and Beida choose to go abroad, not only due to the bad conditions.
We believe that most Chinese universities are willing to change, but they lack the ability to do so, because of their management system. Universities are not independent legal entities. School management, teaching content, specialties and teachers – they are all dependent on the governmental administration. Therefore, universities cannot decide for themselves – it is the government that takes responsibility. The direct result of this way of school management is not being in touch with society and far from the essence of education.
In recent years public opinion has worried about all the weaknesses of Chinese universities. Perhaps after a few years we will have to face the painful reality, when the leaders of future will lose their youth and vitality. Studying at university does not provide bright and foreseeable future – if this is not studying in vain, so then what is? Where can I get back the time and effort lost at university? The core problem is to choose from an instrumental and value rationality – or in other words – is it better to create constructors or citizens? These are the questions that Chinese universities will not be able to avoid. The only way to make progress is by a breakthrough. Millions of people want the educational system to transform and bring back its values, which can only be obtained by the painful process of changing of all the structure.