Something's Rotten in Exchange Programs with Chinese Universities

Here are some stylized facts about Chinese universities.

  1. Cheating among students is rampant
  2. Faculty turnover is high
  3. Instructors are overworked
  4. Administration and oversight of teaching and pedagogy is at best weak

Here are some stylized facts about U.S. higher education

  1. Everyone wants a piece of the China market
  2. Study abroad programs are really popular, especially for “high-achievers”
  3. Academic integrity is taken very seriously, even if it is is difficult to identify violations or to enforce standards of conduct

Combine these and I think that we have a recipe for disaster in student exchange programs in Chinese universities.

Without naming names or institutions, let me outline a scenario. A student participates in a study abroad program in which she takes courses for U.S. credit in a Chinese university. She is accused of plagiarism. The Chinese university (a C9 institution) is unable even to identify the instructor, and unwilling to investigate the circumstances surrounding the assignments or any possible violation of academic integrity in this or any other course. Indeed, there isn’t even an internal university mechanism for doing so. The “educational exchange institute” (read: broker that matches U.S. students with Chinese universities for a fee) cannot ascertain anything about the course other than it exists, yet pledges that the course should count for university credit in the U.S.

If you care at all about academic integrity in U.S. higher education, well, you have lots to worry about. But this scenario should especially bother you. I, for one, do not think that U.S. institutions should award academic credit for any coursework conducted at an institution (in China or anywhere else) that does not even pretend to care that students are actually submitting their own work.