China’s education ministry has made clear that overseas students can expect severe punishment if they break the rules, after a number of controversies involving foreigners studying at mainland universities.
An unnamed senior ministry official said rules for overseas students should be broadly the same as for the local Chinese cohort, and that universities “should seriously punish foreign students if they violate those rules”, Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily reported on Saturday.
The official said the education ministry had taken a firm public stance in response to heated online discussions in China over a string of incidents involving overseas students.
Shandong University apologised a week ago after massive online criticism for its buddy programme, which matched each of its foreign students with several local students of the opposite sex on campus.
And, earlier this month, an Egyptian studying at Fujian Agriculture and Forestry University in southeast China was captured on video tussling with a police officer who stopped him for violating traffic rules by taking a woman passenger on his electric bike. The university, based in the provincial capital of Fuzhou, later described the student’s behaviour as “vicious” and said on its website it would “put him under observation” as punishment.
The People’s Daily article also addressed a widespread perception in China that international students receive preferential treatment – in addition to the general scholarships and grants they receive – with different standards of dormitories, classrooms and canteen conditions, as well as test papers, compared to their domestic counterparts.
The education ministry issued a circular last year urging mainland universities to bring the rules closer together for the teaching, management and services provided to international and local students, with the ultimate goal of adopting the same standardised teaching and testing requirements for both groups.
The circular said all students should receive equal and identical learning resources and management services, according to the article, and it was up to universities to educate their foreign students on Chinese laws and school regulations, and to “seriously punish those who breach them”.
At the same time, the education ministry official said, universities needed to take into account the differences between foreign and domestic students in terms of language, culture, folk customs and habits, and support overseas students in better understanding Chinese culture so they could integrate quickly into the institution and Chinese society.
“With regard to teaching, an effective teaching aid system should be established to provide help to foreign students while, with regard to management and services, schools should organise and guide foreign students to attend healthy extracurricular activities to boost cultural communication and understanding between domestic and foreign students,” the official said.
Education ministry statistics show that 492,000 international students from 196 countries and regions studied at 1,004 mainland universities and institutions last year. Among them, more than 63,000 students, or 12.8 per cent, were fully sponsored by the Chinese government, with 70 per cent of those pursuing postgraduate degrees in China.
The country had become the most popular destination for foreign students in Asia, the ministry said. In 2017, the top five countries providing international students to China were South Korea, Thailand, Pakistan, the US and India. More than 60 per cent of China’s overseas students were from Belt and Road Initiative regions.
Xiong Bingqi, deputy director of Chinese think tank 21st Century Education Research Institute, said China should not only release reports about international student numbers, but also on their quality by checking criteria such as language proficiency, study results, whereabouts upon graduation and employers’ assessments.
“It’s important that our universities regard overseas students as ordinary students,” Xiong said in an interview. “If the schools are not strict with foreign students and don’t treat them as equals to local students, I think both the foreign students and the universities will be despised.”
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