Top Chinese universities trial three-year bachelor’s degrees

Peking and Tsinghua join drive to smooth journey from undergraduate to postgraduate studies

June 21, 2022
 Parkour  jump at the Forbidden City in Beijing to illustrate Top Chinese universities trial three-year bachelor’s degrees
Source: Alamy

China’s leading universities are experimenting with shortening the standard four-year duration of a bachelor’s degree, as they battle to hold on to the brightest talent for postgraduate studies.

Peking University, the country’s top-ranked institution, this month introduced a “3+X” programme under which students with the best scores “can enter postgraduate study right after the third year of their undergraduate programme”.

The “X” could be two or three years for a master’s programme or four to five years for a PhD. Details of the initiative were announced by Gong Qihuang, Peking’s executive vice-president, at a press conference hosted by China’s Ministry of Education.

“I believe our graduate school is still working on a mature plan, but this is an innovative attempt in high-level postgraduate education,” He Fei, deputy director of Peking’s disciplinary construction office, told Times Higher Education.

Wu Keming, a professor in the School of Educational Science at Hunan Normal University, described initiatives such as Peking’s as a “win-win situation”.

“With this scheme, the university can retain their top students, which in turn improves the quality of their graduate students and reputation. For students with academic passion, they can save one year to do more research,” Dr Wu said.

Leading Chinese universities have been looking for ways to smooth the route from undergraduate to postgraduate study, with existing models including “3+5”, “3+1+X” and “3+2+3”, under which selected students start postgraduate courses while finishing tasks from their former course.

Staff at Xi’an Jiaotong University told THE that the postgraduate period can be “brought forward” for excellent undergraduate students.

Tsinghua University also announced in February that it was establishing a “flexible route” to connect undergraduate and postgraduate courses but did not reveal further information about its process or criteria.

“Wind vanes can lead the trend,” said Professor Wu. “It is likely that we will see similar schemes in wider institutions. However, since students are more attracted by prestigious universities, this will be more effective for selective institutions.

“Take universities in the ‘211 list’ [of top-tier institutions] as an example: the rate of undergraduate students from 211 institutions is low at their graduate schools because these students aimed at higher targets.”

Professor Wu pointed out that this also reflected growing competition among universities for reputation, academic results and talented students. This competition may also contribute to the trend that growing numbers of graduates from top Chinese institutions are opting to stay at domestic universities for postgraduate studies.

“How to keep the brightest students has been a valued target for graduate schools,” Professor Wu said.

karen.liu@timeshighereducation.com

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