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China: Graduate thesis or practical training?

The purpose and function of university education has been a highly debatable topic both in the East and the West. In China, people strongly believe that education is a route to success and in the past few years, the number of university students has increased rapidly. However, as the problem of university graduate unemployment keeps elevating since the financial tsunami hit the continent early this year, there are more expectations for the universities to provide practical and vocational training rather than research skill and exploration of knowledge. This month a heated debate emerged online when the journalism department of Sichuan University decided to cancel the requirement of writing a graduate thesis, or an extensive research essay, for university students to get their degree. Instead, graduation would be conditioned on the quality of articles and commentaries published by undergraduates on newspapers.

The head of the journalism department explained the decision:

论文要求在某一领域有独到的见解。可是你想想,要一个本科生在新闻学研究或新闻学史论上有什么突破或是真知灼见,可能么?学生为了完成任务,只好大量复制、粘贴,等于把学生往剽窃上赶

Thesis writing requires having insights and findings in a particular field. But just think about it: is it realistic to expect an undergraduate to have new ideas on the theories or histories of journalism? To fulfill the requirements, students can only copy and paste; we are pushing students onto the path of plagiarism.

业界评价我们,有句非常不好听的话,说什么‘本科生知道《泰晤士报》是哪一年办的;研究生知道《泰晤士报》是哪一月办的;博士生知道《泰晤士报》是哪一天办的’—虽然很刻薄,但也反映出我们的大学教育与业界脱节,学的东西和实践完全没有联系的现象。

The journalism sector likes to mock with with this joke: “undergraduates know which year The Times was founded; masters know which month; PhDs know which date.” This sarcastic story reflects that our university education is detached from reality and not practical at all.

This decision has sparked a heated debate online.

盛大林 supported the claim that undergraduates are not equipped with the ability to write thesis:

论文,就是研究某些问题的文章。也就是说,“研究”是撰写论文的基本前提。可是,本科生能有什么“研究”呢?

A thesis is a research paper on a problem. That means “research” is the pre-condition for writing an essay. However, what “research” can an undergraduate do?

对于本科生而言,他们的任务就 是系统地学习本专业的基础知识或基本技能。可以说,本科生既不具备研究所必须的知识基础或实践经验,教学大纲中也没有研究方面的安排。既然没有“研究”, 怎么撰写“论文”?

For undergraduates, their task is to master the field’s fundamental knowledge or skills in a systematic way. We can say that undergraduates are not equipped with the knowledge or practical experience to conduct research; the curriculum has not include research method. How can a student write a “thesis” without “research”?

乐透 directly addresses the top concern facing undergraduates – securing employment – and the fact that writing a thesis is completely detached to this reality:

作为一名大四在校生,我很熟悉现在的学生都在做什么。大致可以分为几类。一类是考研的,一类是靠公务员的,还有一类是找工作的。精力旺盛的可以兼任三职。但无论归为哪一类,最终必须要迈过毕业论文这道坎才行。这条规矩已经存在并霸占了好多年,但质量或者说成效却是越来越低。

As a fourth-year undergraduate, I know what students are doing. They can be classified into several types: applying to be postgraduates, applying to be civil servants or applying for other jobs. Those strong enough can do these three together. But no matter what, all students need to produce a graduate thesis. This rule has been in place for many years, but its quality and effectiveness is declining.

真正体现大学生价值的方面不是在一篇毫无意义的论文上,需要的更多的是实践、活动、模拟场,甚至是社会的洗礼。因为只有这样,当代大学生才能觉醒。

The value of a university student would not be reflected in a meaningless thesis. They need more practice, training or even real social experience in order to develop enter the social realities.

However, 周育民 disagrees with the decision and values the training of thesis writing:

教会学生写论文,是教育的一项基本目标。简单地说,就是要让学生学会发现问题、分析问题、解决问题,并把这一思维过程通过学术论文的形式表达出来。只有具备了这种能力的学生才达到学士学位的要求。论文的水平高下不是主要的考核目标。

Teaching students to write a thesis is an educational aim in itself. It is to teach students the process of discovering, analyzing and solving a problem, and expressing this thought process in the format of an academic thesis. Only by having these abilities can a student fulfills the requirement of a bachelor’s degree. The quality of the thesis is not a major consideration.

进入信息时代以后,对于劳动者的素质要求进一步提高,这也是大学教育迅速普及的社会动因。学会运用专业知识,进行复杂思维的能力,是完成大学教育的基本目标

As we enter the information age, the requirements on the quality of our labour are increasing. This is also one of the reasons why university education is more popular. Training students the ability to think in a complex way by utilizing the knowledge acquired should be the basic aim of our higher education.

Finally, 朱四倍 criticizes the over-emphasis on the utility of education:

笔者以为,以培养应用型人才为主的专业、学校,可以取消本科毕业论文,而以培养研究型人才为主的大学及相关专业则不宜取消毕业论文的观点并不适当,甚至可以说是一种逃避。

I do not agree with the viewpoint that professional based and applied science universities can cancel the requirement of graduate thesis, while research-intensive universities can keep it. It is an excuse of being irresponsible.

大学是研究高深学问之场所,这意味着自由探究与批判精神的养成。

University is a place for advanced studies of knowledge, which means nurturing a spirit of liberal research and criticism.

但在笔者看来,与其说是“大势所趋”,不如说是显现了大学、社会和学生的过度功利化心态。

To me, rather than saying that it is an inevitable trend, it shows the utilitarian mentality of universities, students and the society.

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