January 23, 2008

Chinese Universities — The Biggest Red

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CHINA — Disliked your freshman dorm experiences? Imagine having lived your whole life as an only child only to move into a room with three other students — all of whom are also only children.
Most Chinese university students live like this for their four undergraduate years; several students at different universities also said that their dorm is assigned during this whole time. [img_assist|nid=26777|title=What’s Chinese for muggle?|desc=Renmin University students shop at a used book sale that is held every Saturday and Sunday on their campus. Photo: Matt Hintsa|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
Classes in Chinese universities are generally lectures with at least 40 students, according to Yongping Chen, deputy director of the Office of International Cooperation at Southeast University in Nanjing.
Since Chinese classes do not involve discussions with professors, students often have trouble when they study in the U.S. or Britain, the two most popular destinations for Chinese students, said Chen, who has researched how cultural variations affect learning.
For the approximately six million university students in China, however, two classes are often required, according to Southeast student Jing Yao: Zhao English and basic training. Another student described the military course as mostly marching.
At many schools, classroom buildings are not heated. One new building at Southeast, for example, had open stairwells that connected to hallways without doors.
In another effort to conserve energy, power in dormitories is turned off at 11 p.m. except during exam time. In order to study (or do anything else requiring electricity), students have to go to student activity centers or library. Some students study via flashlight — a change from a few years ago when many used candles, according to Hui Zhou, a student at Renmin University in Beijing.[img_assist|nid=26778|title=Battle of the minds|desc=Students at Southeast University study for finals one Saturday in early January. Photo: Matt Hintsa|link=node|align=right|width=|height=0]
Libraries are a popular place at any time of the day. At Southeast, students line up at 7 a.m. to get a good seat in the library, Zhao said. The Southeast undergraduate library holds a large computer lab, which students need to use because they are not allowed to bring a computer until their senior year (although a few people sneak them in).
Just like students worry about getting space in the library, many focus on finding housing and work after school.
The stock market has also become an issue for many students, some of whom are investing money needed for school expenses.
An administrator at Hebei University of Technology in Tianjin, for example, told the Beijing Times earlier this month, “We discovered that some of the students have put their tuition money into banks to accrue interest, or play the stock market, or do business.”
Many Chinese universities charge 5,000 yuan a year (about $690) for undergraduates and 18,000 yuan a year (about $2,500) for graduate students.
Universities are concentrated in the wealthier, more urban eastern part of China, and most of the students hail from this area as well.
Incomes in urban areas of China averaged 7,250 yuan a year (about $1,000) in 2005, while incomes in rural areas averaged 2,170 yuan (about $300) the same year, according to Associated Press reports.
“There [are] also many, many students from western China on our campus,” a Renmin student who identified himself as Jeffrey said. “There are poor areas. The living standards there are as low as African refugees.”
[img_assist|nid=26779|title=Talk shop|desc=Sun Editor in Chief Jonny Lieberman ’08 talks to Southeast University students in Nanjing, China. Photo: Matt Hintsa|link=node|align=right|width=|height=0]Many people in western China work as farmers or in the oil industry, but jobs are often scarce. Those who are able to attend university in eastern China have a better chance to find work.
“I think it is very, very [important] task for us to help our western part because very, very little people want to go there to help those people,” Jeffrey said.
The government runs programs to encourage university students to volunteer in western China, Jeffrey continued, but not many students want to go there.
Monetary issues prohibit many students from going out at night — especially to bars, where prices are out of reach for many non-students. Zhao said students at Southeast usually go out about once a month. When students do go out, karaoke bars — known as KTV — are very popular.

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