More and more Chinese students undertake degrees in the UK each year. Neil Mannix investigates the methods used by these Chinese students in order to guarantee a place at top UK universities.
Wang Guodong sits in front his computer screen and scrolls through different websites that offer a wide selection of services. His stops on one in particular and types his details onto the application form. It reads like every other form you’ve filled out online a thousand times – Name, Age, Sex, Address, Banking Details. After he types his basic information, he’s requested to upload his CV, high school exam results and a covering letter. “My English is not so good, so I worry about sending my cover letter directly to universities” says a smiling Wang. After he uploads the file he pays £1,000 and within the month gets accepted to a top university in England. “It’s their job to fix the grammar, apply to schools for you and fill out the forms; we expect to get accepted into schools after paying the money. This is very common in China. Almost all of my friends studying abroad have done this. It’s easy”.
The company used by Wang and other Chinese students is CiiC – China International Intellectech Corporation. It was founded in 1987 and has been helping Chinese students secure places in top US and UK universities ever since. “Everyone knows about these websites in China. They’re very popular and quite cheap too. CiiC is the best” says Yang Yingying, 22, a pint sized student studying Global Journalism in the University of Sheffield. She used the exact procedure as Wang to get a place at Sheffield University.
CiiC, on its official website, gives a very detailed and complicated explanation of what exactly its function is. The ‘about’ page is overloaded in long arcane sentences – ‘CiiC has 87 subsidiaries and branches focusing on international cooperation in the fields of economy, technology and talent in China… We aim to keep abreast of the latest development of knowledge-powered productivity amid the global economic integration, the mega trends of structural change and transfer of worldwide service sector as well as complete outsourcing especially offshore arrangements, and catering for China’s demands for restructuring of service industry..’
It’s longwinded but says very little of what it actually does – helps Chinese students that otherwise would not or could not get onto MA and BA degree courses in foreign universities, specifically in the US and UK.
Yang Yingying explained the process when applying to UK universities. A prospective student contacts the agency with their high school transcripts and a covering letter prepared alongside a list of universities they wish to study in. They pay a flat fee of £500 to CiiC which entitles them to have their cover letter extensively edited and 10 prospective universities applied to on their behalf. The universities they apply to must be within their academic credentials. Paying the fee does not entitle a client to apply to, say Oxford if their grades are not applicable. If they wish for the company to proceed and formally apply to a particular university they pay an additional 5,000 Yuan, or £500, for the company to fill out the university application forms and also the complicated and time consuming visa documents.
If a Chinese student wishes to apply for a US university, the fee increases dramatically to 40,000 Yuan, around $4,000. The difference in fee is calculated by the increase in workload for CiiC. “When applying to US schools we need to write out four cover letters for each school. People apply to at least 5 because the contract with the company (CiiC) states you have to apply to at least 5”. Yang said, explaining the complicated and costly process.
During the 2012/2013 academic year, there were more than 2,300 Chinese students enrolled in the University of Sheffield. Most of the students interviewed for this article were MA students and paid £15,000 for one year of study. The broad majority of Chinese students enrolled in the university study either Global Journalism or IPC (International Political Communication). These courses, along with Broadcast, Web, Print and Magazine journalism make up the degrees available through the Department of Journalism studies. An interview is not required for a place on either the Global or IPC course. However, along with paying the flat fee, prospective Chinese students must obtain a proficiently certificate in English. They are required by Sheffield University to secure an overall score of at least 7.0 on an IELTS test (International English Language Testing System).
The maximum score available to a participant is 9.0. With a score of 7.0, one should be almost proficient in English and make very few mistakes in both their written and spoken English. The University is required to check each student’s application form but with a perfectly written cover letter and all the necessary forms filled in efficiently, is it possible for some students, without having to interview to get in a place on the course, to have below par English?
Alessandra Katz is an MA student studying Magazine Journalism in the University of Sheffield and has worked closely with a group of Global students on an essay. Some modules cross over between the different departments and Alessandra took ‘Global Journalism’ in her first semester. Before undertaking her studies in Sheffield she worked as a CELTA (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults) teacher in Greece and Spain for over three years. She explained the IELTS course in more detail, “I taught all levels of English including the one which those girls (Chinese classmates) were supposed to have an average score of 7 in IELTS, which is equivalent to advanced English in the European framework. At that level you should be able to speak and write fluently and make very few mistakes. The course tests you on reading, writing, listening and speaking. You need to get an average of 5 to qualify with overall score of 7 or above”.
Alessandra worked within a group of four and was the only native speaker and found it challenging to work with her colleagues, “I would not have been able to pass the girls in global if I were their English teacher. Both their spoken and written English was much below the standard it was supposed to be. They had difficulty expressing basic human emotions, let alone complex ideas. I had to heavily edit our group essay and was sure we were going to fail because it didn’t make sense – not just the English but the ideas. I was surprised that they made up the majority of the academic courses in the journalism MA. I guess the school loves their money”.
Lou Preston, 23, is enrolled on the IPC course and took the same class as Alessandra. “I found Global excellent. The classes were very basic and straightforward. The assignment was a group essay and I was paired with a group of three Chinese girls. We met every week as soon as we got the essay title and divided the different parts between the four of us. I was the native speaker so wrote the introduction, conclusion and tried to help the others when it came to structuring the thing. It wasn’t a massive inconvenience and there’s a service offered by the Uni that helps correct the grammar. We worked really well within the group; I even got some Chinese food. We handed it on time and got 74%. I was delighted”.
After making friends within the module and his course as a whole, Lou was approached and asked to help some students edit their essays. “I heard from a mate that some of the Chinese students pay foreigners, native speakers, 7 quid per 1,000 words to correct their English and help fix the structure of the essay. I corrected a few and was shocked at how badly they were written, I’ve no idea how some of them got accepted as their essays were that poor, like not understanding words and mixing up tenses. After doing one or two I packed it in. It was too much work and frustrating.”
Andrew Tildesley has a completely different perspective on Chinese students. He also studied alongside Global students as part of a module in Magazine Journalism. “It was very easy going to work alongside the Chinese students. They’re remarkable polite and very efficient. I had no problems communicating with them, though their lack of cultural knowledge was one downside, however they’re foreigners here and the broad majority of them only stay for the duration of their studies so it was understandable, the bridge in culture”.
This is also an interesting aspect to Chinese students studying abroad. The majority of the students interviewed all alluded to the fact that they will be travelling back to China once their degrees are finished. Why would they spend so much money on a degree and then travel back to China. Surely, after spending over £15,000, they would grasp at an opportunity at remaining in the UK?
Yu Zhang, 24, is a recent graduate of a Masters course in Broadcast Journalism but has little intention of remaining in the UK, not because of her lack of ability but because of the stringent visa requirements. “It is extremely hard to live in the UK full time after we graduate. The visa requirements make it very hard” explains Yu. “We need a job and a sponsor but our salary needs to be above 24,000 pounds a year. That’s very hard to get as an entry level position so we all go back home (China) and find it much easier to get a job with our foreign degrees”.
In China degrees obtained from UK or US universities ameliorates students’ chances of securing a high paying job in Beijing or Shanghai. A foreign degree holds more weight in China over the equivalent degree rewarded by the majority of domestic universities. There are a few exceptions to this and Yu went on to explain the system in place in China where competition is fierce and only a few select universities are worth entering. “In China we have thousands of universities but not all are that good. There are five top universities worth getting into but they are very difficult, only the brightest students get the chance to study there. There’s Peking, Tsinghua, Shanghai, Jiaotong and Fudan. If you get accepted into any of those universities you can get a high paying job, but most of us won’t and will need to study abroad. Our English doesn’t have to be good, just once we have the degree. That’s all the matters. A degree from a foreign country.”
Wang Guodong sits patiently outside the University of Sheffield’s main library on a surprisingly bright and sunny day. He listens to his favourite Chinese singer, Yilin Cai, on his iphone as he waits. The phone buzzes into life and he excuses himself and goes inside the library. He emerges from the library with his freshly edited essay in his hand. “I found a native speaker to correct my grammar and fix the structure of the essay. It’s my dissertation so I hope he corrected all the mistakes. It costs a lot less than CiiC” says a smiling Wang as he walks off content with the work he’s done and hopeful the native speaker edited his essay sufficiently to get him a passing grade.