For some Chinese high school students, passing the gaokao is the final goal of their academic life. They believe that once they enter college, life will be easy. However, getting a college degree now requires more effort than it did before.
In September, the Ministry of Education released an announcement, requiring universities to increase the difficulty of undergraduate courses and work harder to end academic misconduct in bachelor’s theses.
This came after a change put forward by Minister of Education Chen Baosheng during a meeting held in Chengdu in June. Chen said that universities should “reasonably increase students’ academic burden” to encourage them to work harder and improve their knowledge and skill levels.
In China, students often study hard during high school to achieve high gaokao scores and get admitted to a good university. However, once entering university, many students lose interest in their studies, let alone acquiring outstanding academic abilities, according to Chu Zhaohui, a researcher at the National Institute of Education Sciences.
This phenomenon could be because the pressure to study at university is lower than that of high school.
“You get a degree whether you study or not, so why bother studying?” Wang Qi, 26, a graduate student in Beijing, told The New York Times.
Indeed, Chinese universities have a relatively high graduation rate compared to Western ones.
According to a study released by Xiamen University in 2016, among 820 universities in China, both the average graduation rate and the average degree awarding rate reached about 97 percent. However, the average graduation rate of Top 50 US universities only reached about 89 percent.
“The evaluation standards in universities aren’t very high,” Sang Guoyuan, a professor of education at Beijing Normal University, told The Economic Observer. “Many poorly performing students are given ‘passes’ by teachers as long as they attend classes.”
However, in the US, to make sure education quality is kept high, universities always “keep the students under competitive pressure by assigning them challenging tasks,” Xiong Bingqi, deputy director of the 21st Century Education Research Institute, wrote on the China Daily website.
For example, US universities have “weed-out courses”, which are designed to kick out students who don’t meet certain academic criteria.
However, while the Ministry of Education’s plans aim to increase “university students’ academic burden”, they’re not intended to put extra pressure on them. Instead, the new requirements are meant to fulfill the basic requirements of university education, according to Xiong. As Guangming Daily put it, “University is an important time in shaping young people’s personalities and values.”