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Shanghai colleges joust for students

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 July, 2011, 12:00am


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The education authorities have ordered a ceasefire in a bitter war of words between two prestigious Shanghai universities over allegedly underhand recruitment methods.

Fudan University, famous for its liberal arts and science departments, accused its biggest rival in the city, Shanghai Jiao Tong University (Jiaoda), of sending staff posing as Fudan employees to deceive high school graduates into abandoning their applications to enrol at Fudan and opt for Jiaoda instead. Jiaoda, strong in engineering fields and the alma mater of former Communist Party general secretary Jiang Zemin, denied the accusation.

The scandal is a reflection of the cut-throat competition for elite students across the mainland after years of university expansion and increasing competition from overseas institutions, including ones in Hong Kong.

On Friday, Fudan posted 'a serious statement regarding some students in some provinces being cheated into changing their applications' on its website. 'During this year's recruitment period, some people posing as Fudan teachers called students who had signed enrolment agreements with Fudan to tell them that the agreements had been dropped by Fudan,' it said.

Fudan said it was a vicious fraud and it retained the right to sue those responsible.

On microblogging site Sina Weibo, Fudan said a technological university in Shanghai was behind the scam.

Fudan and Jiaoda have been competitors since the last days of the Qing dynasty and are regarded as the Shanghai equivalents of Beijing's Peking University and Tsinghua University, the mainland's two most prestigious universities.

On Saturday, Professor Feng Wei, an outspoken Fudan academic responsible for recruitment in Hubei, said on Weibo that 'based on the fact that everyone can reasonably speculate that Fudan was alluding to Jiaoda, I hope that Jiaoda can stand up to prove it is innocent.'

That night, a 'serious statement' posted on Jiaoda's website said its reputation had been badly damaged by the innuendo originating from Fudan's statement.

'There is no teacher from here who has ever informed students of the abolition of enrolment agreements in the name of other universities,' Jiaoda said.

The statements were removed from the universities' websites on Monday afternoon. Feng said the Ministry of Education had stepped in and teachers had been forbidden from talking about the row. A propaganda teacher from Fudan told the Shanghai Morning Post it had given evidence to the ministry.

The two universities have since June 20 sent groups of teachers across the mainland to recruit students. Their job is to provide on-the-spot advice, recruit and, most importantly, persuade students with high grades to choose their university.

Early last month, 9.3 million students across the mainland took the national college entrance exam, with 73 per cent expecting to be admitted. After the test scores were released at the end of last month, students were allowed to apply for about six first-class universities. The order of the institutions on the application is key and students list their favourites first. The recruitment squads often sign agreements with elite students, promising them popular majors as long as they rank the university as their top choice and their grades are up to standard.

Xu Hongbo, deputy director of Fudan's recruitment office, told Shanghai-based Dragon TV that it had received complaints from students from Shanxi, Yunnan, Ningxia, Guangdong and Hubei about the scam, in which people claiming to be Fudan teachers asked students not to apply to the university. 'It happened in so many places. It's obviously a deliberate action and we came to realise it is serious,' Xu said.

Jiaoda failed to respond to phone calls seeking comment.

Feng said it was impossible for Jiaoda to conclude that none of its staff was involved in the fraud because it could not investigate its hundreds of recruiters in just one day.

Professor Fan Xianzuo, from Central China Normal University's school of education in Wuhan, Hubei, said the war of words reflected the tough competition for students since 1999, when mainland universities began rapidly expanding. The entry of overseas universities in the past few years had made it even harder to attract the best students.

Mainland media reports say some universities have resorted to underhand means to woo students, such as repeatedly dialling rivals' recruitment hotlines, promising preferential treatment and even mobilising local officials to press-gang students.

Fan said the fight highlighted the worrying emphasis universities placed on students' scores.

'This test-priority method has been in place for decades, and although it's been criticised for a long time it hasn't changed at all,' Fan said. 'It's detrimental to the education sector and our students.'