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Is It Right for Universities to Dangle Large Scholarships to Bag Top Students?
Questionable tactics to attract top students come under fire
  ·  2019-07-08  ·   Source: NO.28 JULY 11, 2019

(LI SHIGONG)

The recent years have seen Chinese universities, including prestigious ones, using various questionable tactics to attract top students after the college entrance examination. Large scholarships are one of them.

This year, Zhejiang University in east China's Zhejiang Province, one of China's top universities, dangled a tempting carrot before 100 students in the province who topped the exam. It said if any of them took admission in the university, they would be given a scholarship of 500,000 yuan ($72,664). However, the university was prevented from putting its offer into action by the Ministry of Education (MOE).

Zhejiang University is not the only university that made tempting scholarship offers to grab the best students. This year, several universities in south China's Guangdong Province conducted the same practice. For example, Guangzhou University offered 100,000 yuan ($14,532) to the arts and science toppers of the provincial college entrance examination.

Some people think the universities' fight over top students is a malpractice. It not only unfairly sways the students when they are choosing their university but also diverts financial resources from other programs like academic research. It's also unfair to other students, who could have enjoyed more benefits if the money had been used for all freshmen instead of a few toppers.

Some people, while pointing out that awarding scholarships is a common practice in Western universities, also say that those universities, however, do it differently from the Chinese universities. High-quality education and an excellent academic environment are the best incentives for students instead of fat scholarships.

Money doesn't mean quality

Dai Xianren (China Youth Daily): Every year, after the college entrance exam, universities begin to grab outstanding students. While Zhejiang University is in the eye of the storm because of its 500,000-yuan bounty offer for the top 100 students, it is far from being the only university to do so.

The MOE forbids universities from vying for students by dangling high scholarships or other incentives before them. To some extent, the competition among universities for high-scoring students is understandable. A friendly competition will enhance the overall competitiveness of these universities. On the contrary, to bribe students with a large fortune is vicious competition and violates regulations.

The competitiveness of a university is based not on its lavish scholarship but its academic capability and the good career prospects it can create for its students. Universities should not use excellent students to show off but should focus more on training students and preparing them for fierce competition in their future career and social life. In this way, universities' resources are more evenly distributed among all students, instead of being directed to a small number. If they fail to do so, then they are deviating from the original objective of education.

It's hoped that the universities will stop scrambling for good students in this way. The education authorities need to strengthen supervision and rectify those universities' behavior. Universities must know that improving their competitiveness in various aspects is the best way to attract good students. It is also the best way to push forward college education in the whole country.

Yao Cunshe (www.rednet.cn): The sum of 500,000 yuan is indeed a very tempting amount of money. Zhejiang University's attempt to attract top students with financial benefits has been halted, though some people are surprised at the crackdown by the MOE because fat scholarships are nothing new. For so many years, if a middle school produces a college entrance examination champ, or zhuangyuan, at the municipal or provincial level, even some local governments offer some kind of award to show their support for education.

Some big companies have also joined in the chorus praising the zhuangyuan by offering them big sums of money in the name of supporting local education as part of their corporate philanthropy. However, in recent years, such hype and hoopla has been banned. Zhejiang University's generous scholarship also smacks of this hype.

Universities grabbing top students in this way is reprehensible, so it's understandable that the MOE stopped it. The order safeguards fairness in education, and will also serve as a warning to other universities.

A bad precedent

Chang Yinxun (www.rednet.cn): All universities, including the prestigious ones, want to recruit top students. However, since good students are sought by many universities, they have to try all kinds of ways to win over these students. But the universities offering large sums of money are overestimating the value of top students and appear to lack confidence in their own ability. After all, top-scoring students are not everything for a good university.

Education resources should be spent where they are most needed. No matter how many students Zhejiang University manages to lure with a fortune, the university has to divert the money from academic research and improvement allocations. Every year, universities receive financial resources that are not supposed to be used to get top students. Universities are not supposed to use the money entirely at their own discretion.

If Zhejiang University's tactic had worked, it might have been copied by others in the coming years. As a result, top students would have faced a dilemma—should they choose the university they want to go to or accept the one offering a big scholarship? The 500,000-yuan scholarship offer tarnished Zhejiang University's image.

A university's prestige is not built on the number of zhuangyuans it attracts, but on its academic competence, education concepts and the career prospect of its graduates. Zhejiang University is already a top university in China, and even if it doesn't offer large scholarships, it can still get good students.

Top students deserve an excellent education, but money should never be the deciding factor when they choose among good universities. Zhejiang University is not the only university that offered large scholarships; all Chinese universities need to realize that top students are only one of the many factors that contribute to a university's comprehensive competitiveness. They need to make more efforts to improve their academic capability and prestige instead of spending so much money and energy trying to grab top students.

Xiong Bingqi (The Beijing News): A lot of prestigious world-class universities offer sizeable scholarships to attract excellent students, so why is this seen as a malicious practice?

Those who think this way do not understand the MOE's policy. According to the policy, universities offering these scholarships to grab top students are violating the rules because these scholarships are meant for a very small number of freshmen. In world-class universities in Western countries, the scholarships are open to all and are given to the students who win them.

In Western countries, a student is allowed to apply to several universities and select one based on the benefits the university offers. The scholarship will factor only in the decision-making phase. However, in China, the scholarship is promised even before the student applies to different universities. Thus, it is used as a tactic to woo the top students.

Chinese universities have a lot to do to improve their recruitment procedure. Aggressive ways and even malpractices to grab top students must be banned, and universities' overemphasis on top students, especially college entrance examination zhuangyuans, must be curbed. They should try to attract top students by offering high-quality education that help the students fully develop their potential, instead of offering them money.

Edited by Sudeshna Sarkar

Comments to dingying@bjreview.com

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