Chinese universities told student cheating could cost them funding

Campuses rated below par for three years in a row could be asked to suspend undergraduate recruitment

January 20, 2021
Cheating
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China is ramping up its crackdown on academic misconduct with plans for plagiarism spot checks on undergraduate dissertations, warning universities that they face losing funding or having their right to enrol students suspended if they consistently perform poorly.

The Ministry of Education said that provincial education authorities will sample at least 2 per cent of undergraduate theses completed in the last academic year, which will be run through software platforms and two rounds of review by independent experts. Those found to involve plagiarism, forgery, tampering or ghost-writing will be rated as “problematic”.

A graduate’s degree could be revoked based on the result. The findings will also be used in teaching assessments, subject ratings and the allocation of operational grants for undergraduate programmes. Schools with repeated reports of “problematic” theses three years in a row could be asked to suspend enrolment on the grounds that they “cannot guarantee the quality of their programmes”.

Similar spot-checking has been carried out on PhD and master’s theses since 2014, with higher sampling rates of 10 per cent and 5 per cent respectively.

“Punishment is not the purpose, but an alert to raise schools’ awareness,” said Wang Fenghua, deputy dean of the School of Business and Management at Shanghai International Studies University (SISU) and deputy director of the institution’s academic affairs office. “Universities will be more proactive in reviewing and improving the quality of their undergraduate theses.”

The low quality of undergraduate theses has long haunted education experts in China, with insufficient supervision frequently blamed on a low student-teacher ratio and an attitude of disregard among learners. One survey reported by local media indicated that 76 per cent of Chinese undergraduates considered the quality of their dissertations to be “bad” – including the 53 per cent who described them as “very bad”. An overwhelming majority of students – 94 per cent – said that they considered job hunting to be more important than writing their thesis.

Some academics have welcomed the government directive but have cautioned that sampling one in 50 dissertations will not be enough to stamp out bad practice.

“Enrolment suspension will be an effective measure to push universities to strengthen academic review, but more work needs to be done to improve guidance and supervision and encourage students’ ethical behaviour as well,” said Wang Yiming, deputy director of the academic affairs office at Xi’an Jiaotong University.

Xiong Bingqi, deputy director of the Beijing-based 21st Century Education Research Institute, who has long advocated the abolition of undergraduate theses in China because of their poor quality, wrote that loopholes would remain even after the new measures were implemented, and not only due to low levels of sampling. Ghost-writing is difficult to detect and the more fundamental issue is the need for more careful supervision, he said.

SISU’s Professor Wang said that reforms to assessment were also an important part of the solution. “Our university has been requiring all undergraduate students to do [an] oral defence for their theses, making sure they receive guidance from its proposal to final presentation,” she said.

karen.liu@timeshigherducation.com

POSTSCRIPT:

Print headline: Chinese universities warned student plagiarism could cost them funding

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