Universities in the US versus those in Greater China: How do they differ?
A question I am often asked is, "What are the differences between universities in North America and those in the Greater China area?"
There are various answers to this question.
In mainland China, there are 21 weeks in one semester; in Taiwan, 18 weeks; in the United States, 13 weeks in universities that have two semesters a year, and eight weeks in those that have four semesters a year. Therefore, on the face of it, US college students appear to lead more relaxed lives.
But it should be pointed out that almost every college student in the four areas of Greater China (including Hong Kong and Macau] can graduate whether they study hard or not, while in the United States, students must study very hard to finish their weighty and challenging schoolwork; and only half of them graduate.
Among the Chinese students, those hard-working ones satisfactorily do their homework set by teachers, and the universities value "those teachers who are good at delivering lectures". In addition, eloquent teachers are always very popular with students, enjoying high visibility and media exposure. On the contrary, although they have fewer class hours, US students have to take many project-oriented courses, and a well-spoken teacher may not be so highly valued on campus. While Chinese students take more courses than their US counterparts, American universities revolve around the principle that students have to fully grasp what they study.
Recently, a very popular online article titled "Chinese who don't read" written by an Indian engineer who said that he saw quite a few students playing video games in computer rooms in many mainland universities, whereas few were doing research or reading non-textbook materials in the libraries. Reading seems to have become a right enjoyed only by "academics", and even many "academics" may not read either, or even if they do, it is doubtful whether they understand the true meaning of the books. Ordinary people in society like to praise those who devour a lot of books but hardly care whether the latter have really digested them.
The Indian engineer's view confirms what I have observed. University students in Greater China, generally speaking, try to finish their courses and assignments, but after completing them, according to a set model or pattern, it seems they don't do further reading, conduct research or explore further. Basically, university teachers in these areas dutifully pass on theories and impart knowledge, whereas their American counterparts do much more. They teach their classes in a more professional manner, demand that their students raise open-ended questions, and do their best to answer queries and focus on the mission of "studying Nature's phenomena to seek knowledge".
In fact, in American universities, no one guarantees that you will graduate. Essentially, leading universities (i.e. high-ranking ones) in the United States have higher graduation rates; the worse the university, the lower the rate.
So, it can be reasonably said that those who graduate from US universities must have acquired some knowledge. When it comes to graduates from universities in the Greater China area, the level of competence is uneven.
This article was originally published in Chinese in the United Daily News (26 May, 2014).
7 July, 2014