China Faces Academic Corruption, Quality Problems

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A growing chorus of voices is calling on China to tackle the problem of academic corruption. In one example of fraud, a famous researcher at one of China's top universities recently tried to pass off as his own invention a powerful microchip made by a former Motorola subsidiary. Critics say corruption was bound to enter the education system because of the intimate link between government and academia.


From NPR News, it's MORNING EDITION. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

China has dramatically increased the size of its university system. Four times more students attend college now, than did just eight years ago. In the midst of this growth, however, some of China's most prestigious universities have been rocked by a series of scandals involving plagiarism and bogus research.

Now the government is taking action. It's worried what effect the scandals will have on the schools' reputations. NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports.

ANTHONY KUHN reporting:

The latest case unfolded at Shanghai's Jiao Tong University, one of the oldest in the country. Chen Jin, the young dean of the microelectronics institute, claimed to have developed a powerful microchip for use in everything from cars to cell phones. Chen's project was hailed as a sign that China's microelectronics research was catching up to industry leaders. In fact, investigators found that the chips were made by the Freescale Company, a former Motorola subsidiary. According to Chinese media reports, Chen simply had workers sandpaper off the foreign logo and put on his own.

Biologist Fang Zhouzi has investigated Chen's case. He runs a website devoted to exposing academic corruption.

(Soundbite of man speaking foreign language)

Mr. FANG ZHOUZI (Biologist) (through translator): How could such a cheap trick make it past the experts who tested and certified his chip? This shows that the testing system is flawed. From what I understand, the experts are often just a bunch of friends whom a researcher pays to certify his research.

KUHN: Fong points out that in China, the government usually decides what scientists should research and how much funding they should get. High-ranking officials in the Ministry of Science and Technology reportedly ladled out millions of dollars in research grants for Chen Jin.

(Soundbite of man speaking foreign language)

Mr. FONG (through translator): China's education and science systems are not independent. They're an extension of officialdom. So corruption in politics is bound to spill over into academia.

KUHN: Fong says his website has exposed some 500 cases of academic fakery, but authorities have acted on very few. As for Professor Chen, Jiao Tong University has fired him, but he hasn't been charged with any crimes.

(Soundbite of people speaking in foreign language)

KUHN: This is Tsing Hua University, widely known as China's MIT. As the students and teachers walk and bicycle to and from classes here, it's clear from the imposing new law school and other new buildings that the government is pumping a lot of money into this school to make it a world-class university.

But the school's reputation suffered when the assistant dean of the medical school here, was found to have lied on his resume. The dean cited another scholar's research paper as his own, and falsely claimed to have been a research director at the New York University medical school. Tsing Hua quietly fired the dean in March.

Yang Yusheng, a professor of American history at the China University of Politics and Law, says that Chinese universities emphasized the quantity of academics' published work, over their quality. He adds that the schools have failed to teach students the basics of how to research and study.

(Soundbite of man speaking foreign language)

Mr. YANG YUSHENG (Professor, China University of Politics and Law) (through translator): In the first class I taught here, about 50 or 60 percent of the students' essays were copied or plagiarized. They just downloaded them off the Internet and turned them in. I was stunned.

KUHN: Professor Fu Xinyuan is a microbiologist at Indiana University. He's concerned that the recent corruption scandals are giving the world the false impression that China is incapable of cutting edge scientific research.

Professor FU XINYUAN (Indiana University): From my point of view, especially, like for example, in the life sciences, the Chinese indeed make significant progress in the most advanced and on the frontier of the basic science research. They are catching up. I would say this with incredible speed and effort.

KUHN: Fu was one of 120 mostly U.S.-based Chinese scholars who wrote an open letter to the Chinese government, calling for schools to teach students basic academic ethics and to establish institutions to handle allegations of academic corruption.

Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Beijing.

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