'Autonomous' admissions get closer review

Updated: 2013-12-10 07:43

By Sun Xiaochen (China Daily)

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When Gao Lixing, a Beijing Sport University alumnus, discovered that one of his former classmates could not even complete a 1,000-meter run, he was stunned.

"Long running is basic training for student athletes like us. I believe there was something wrong in the admission process," said the 28-year-old Gao, who majored in athletic-training theory and now works as a physical education teacher in his native Liaoning province.

Gao's concern has been underscored by a recent university admissions scandal involving Cai Rongsheng, head of admissions at the Renmin University of China, who is being investigated for allegedly selling university places for lucrative prices in the school's autonomous admissions process.

In the wake of the scandal, the Ministry of Education released a regulation on Monday that urges local education authorities and universities to make schools' self-run admissions programs public. Information like admission rules, the results of autonomous exams, the recruiting process and students' certificates for extra points are all required to be available to the public.

Sound supervision mechanisms are the keys to guaranteeing transparency in college admissions since scandals involving admissions officials draw national attention, experts said.

"As long as there are no supervision and accountability systems, the black-box operation will continue even though the education authority has been calling for transparent recruitment for years," said Xiong Bingqi, vice-president of the 21st Century Education Research Institute.

Xiong said the new regulation is the third time since 2004 that the ministry has issued similar requirements, but their effect has been limited due to poor implementation and the lack of supervision.

Some high-profile universities are allowed to run an independent admission system - separate from the State-mandated national college entrance examination, or gaokao - to recruit talented students who didn't do well in the exam but excel in fields like art and sports.

But the restriction-free procedure has been a breeding ground for corruption, given a huge demand from wealthy and resourceful parents who want their children admitted to renowned universities, Xiong said.

In 2010, Yu Xingchang, deputy director of the Jilin provincial education department, was sentenced to life in prison after receiving 9.53 million yuan ($1.57 million) in bribes for helping students get undeserved admissions.

"Without supervision, colleges tend to publish irrelevant information while the admission process is under the radar, and nobody gets punished," Xiong said.

According to the ministry's announcement on Monday, colleges are required to double-check applicants' qualifications for special admission, and local education authorities should play a watchdog role to assess the information published while issuing necessary penalties.

However, the close ties between local administrations and colleges have been an obstacle, Xiong said.

"It's like asking someone to identify his own faults and sending a father to watch his own son. They are on the same side," he said.

Chu Zhaohui, a researcher at the National Institution of Education Science, echoed Xiong's sentiments, stressing the importance of establishing an independent enrollment committee and complaint-lodging mechanism.

"Too much administrative power was given to schools and local authorities," Chu said. "Having a third-party superior is crucial to guaranteeing transparency while reporting corruption."

As the quota for preferential admissions has fallen in recent years, the price has risen correspondingly. It once cost just 20,000 yuan to 30,000 yuan for a college seat, but the price has now risen to 1 million yuan, Xinhua reported.

Yu Han, director of Tsinghua University's admission department, said the university will organize strict specialty tests during the interview phase for students who pass written exams in the independent-admission process.