Chinese universities ‘bypass doctoral rules’

Political pressure on lower-level Chinese universities to obtain doctorates for their professors is behind an alleged “inappropriate practice” recently, an expert says.

Shaoyang University in Hunan province came under fire last month after it spent 18m yen (£2.2m) in one-time payments for 22 staff it has sent to a university in the Philippines to obtain a doctorate and who were then rehired. According to a list that has now been removed from the university’s website, applicants from various faculties – ranging from economics to information engineering – have all earned a doctorate in education from Adamson University in Manila. .

Following public criticism, which focused on staff obtaining a doctorate within 28 months instead of the usual four years, local education authorities announcement that Shaoyang’s party secretary had been fired for “improper practice” under the university’s doctoral talent program.

Adamson University has dismissed claims that it provides “instant” doctorates, affirming that its doctoral offer “strictly adheres to the policies, guidelines and standards established by the [Filipino] Higher Education Commission, in particular, the minimum of six residency terms”.

But there are concerns about broader malpractice in the professional development of staff at lower-tier Chinese universities. Focused attention lately on a list of holders of public job offers published by Xingtai University in Hebei province, when it emerged that the 13 shortlisted candidates had graduated from institutions in South Korea.

Korean media reported that there was a demand for “short doctoral courses” from Chinese scholars who wanted to obtain a doctorate, and in one extreme case a course was shortened from four months to just 12 days.

“The news reflects some issues,” said Yang Lili, an assistant professor at the University of Hong Kong’s faculty of education. “For example, the evaluation of higher education institutions; the overwhelming preference for the academic stream of higher education rather than professional higher education; and the difficult situations faced by lower-level higher education institutions in China.

Dr Yang said a key factor was “upgrading”, referring to how the proportion of faculty members with doctorates is a key metric considered by the Chinese government in the evaluation, linked to student recruitment, authorization to open new master’s programs and funding allocations.

A 2019 study of 701 public institutions in China found that only three in 10 teachers held doctorates at that time. However, the rate was much lower in institutions in China’s underdeveloped west (9%) compared to universities participating in the elite Project 985 (over 68%).

“Lower-level institutions, especially those outside major cities, are unattractive to PhD graduates. In such circumstances, institutions may seek other means,” Dr. Yang said.

Asked about suggestions to avoid similar cases in the future, Dr Yang said: “An important thing is to address the general preference for the academic side of higher education – not only by higher education institutions but also by students and families – and the hierarchy in Chinese higher education.

“The pursuit of world-class universities is important. It is also important to look for ways to support lower-level higher education institutions, which are much more numerous. »

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