Scholarship and education

Should students decide whether their classmates are poor?

On Tuesday, China Youth Daily reported on a new process instituted by the Ministry of Education to determine whether college students deserve financial aid. As one key part of the process, schools would set up review panels made up of the applicant's classmates, who would vote on whether or not the applicant deserved aid.

The rationale, as reported by CYD:

In the past, investigating the economic circumstances of a student's family relied predominantly on the student's own personal narrative, or on documentation from the student's local government. But in practice, some "impoverished students" did not actually live impoverished lives. To find out the truth of the matter, some schools began scattered exploratory surveys of students' classmates, but this was never done systematically or on a large scale.

The formation of review panels then brings this work under the supervision of classmates and advisors. Cui Bangyan [an inspector with the finance division of the Ministry of Education and the head of the National Grants Management Center] said that there would be one panel for each year or department led by resident advisors and made up of homeroom teachers and students themselves. The student members would be widely representative and would amount to at least 10% of the class or department.

The review panels would also have a particular "orientation." Cui Bangyan said that during the course of democratic appraisal, the panels would place emphasis on students in special situations - orphaned or disabled students, children of martyrs, and students whose family members have long-term illnesses or whose family has suffered from a natural disaster or emergency situation.

Reportedly, assessment of students with financial difficulties would take place once each academic year.

The announcement also included a minimum wage for on-campus student jobs and a cap on the number of hours students are permitted to work.

Many commentators are not too thrilled at the prospect that financial aid for economically disadvantaged students will rely on the judgment of that student's classmates. Here's Tang Jun in today's The Beijing News:

Actually, letting students evaluate poor students has been promoted in a few universities in the past. There are hundreds of techniques for this "evaluation." Southwest Forestry College even required applicants for financial aid to present a "lecture" on-stage, having them inform their classmates of the degree of their poverty in this lecture. "The speakers were choked with sobs, their voices were low, and sometimes they were so emotional that they could not continue speaking." Later, students whose "eyes were blurry and who occasionally had to hold back their tears," "voted" to determine "who would ultimately receive financial aid from the school" (CYD, 2006.11.17). This type of "democratic evaluation" is reportedly effective, but observers watch with heavy hearts. What sort of negative consequences will it have on the spirits of those poor students or on the formerly innocent interpersonal relationships with their classmates?

This is truly worrying.

Perhaps some may say that if inspection of the qualifications of poor students is not strengthened in this way, there will be even more problems. However, logically speaking, poor college students are applying for state aid, so they ought to apply to the government rather than to the school. At the same time, government agencies should be the ones that determine whether the applicants should receive aid rather than having it determined by a "democratic vote" among their classmates.

CYD ran a piece today by Wang Jia, who discussed the problem from a student's point of view:

To judge whether or not a student's family is truly poor, the Ministry of Education wants to establish a review and decision procedure. No question, this will work to improve state financial aid policies and avoid cases of "fake poor students" gaining financial aid through fraud; it will guarantee that a limited amount of financial aid will more effectively help poor students escape their poverty and pursue their studies without worries. But as a current student who has served as a class leader, this writer feels that whether or not a college student's family is truly poor should not be up to his classmates to decide.

College students have a high degree of self-respect. In particular, those students who come from poor families are even more sensitive, and they worry that other people will look down on them or that they will face discrimination. If applying for financial aid means that a student must place his family circumstances on the the table, to be discussed and debated by his teacher and classmates, then I'm afraid this will cause some poor students apprehension and discomfort. This writer's class once had a female student from a far-off mountainous area who had wanted to apply for financial aid, but when she heard that she needed to describe her family's circumstances to her classmates, she bashfully retrieved her application materials from my hands. Later I heard a classmate say that her family had four kids, so to alleviate the burden on her family, she took on a lot of part-time work on campus.

Whether or not a college student's family is poor is not necessarily know to their classmates. This writer has a classmate whose family circumstances are very poor, but he always eats and dresses well; to do this he now owes large amounts of money to his classmates. And his reason for doing this is that he cannot let people look down on him. Such a pose to such an extreme is heartrending, you could say, but classmates who are unaware of the circumstances would not think he is poor. So it is hard to guarantee that college student evaluations would be able to avoid getting confused by certain facades.

In addition, how to determine the makeup of the review panels is another issue; if it is done wrong then it will affect the fairness and justice of the evaluation. So this writer believes that to determine whether or not a college student's family is poor, it is best to rely on the teacher and the school itself to communicate via mail, telephone, and personal interviews in order to complete qualification inspection and review. The school may select other student representatives for one-on-one talks in order to understand the day-to-day behavior of the applicant, but should not organize a large-scale student discussion.

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There are currently 8 Comments for Should students decide whether their classmates are poor?.

Comments on Should students decide whether their classmates are poor?

I think this news thread deserves more attention:

Yeah, I don't think it should be up to the students to decide who gets financial aid. That is a very bad idea.

Can't they not use taxes info to determine who gets the aid? Chinese people don't pay taxes?

jay: I think the idea is that for some families (anyone have any numbers on the extent of the scholarship cheat phenomenon?), paying off their local government to get whatever official documentation is needed is an attractive option compared to four years of full tuition.

To Jay: Most ordinary Chinese don't need to file tax particularly. Usually the income tax will be deducted from the salary before it goes into employees' account. Normally the amount of tax does not take into account of total family income. Thus it's impossible to evaluate a student's financial status by checking their tax files.

And I agree with Wang Jia's opinion, the student who gives comments on this matter.

yeah I know that is the problem. I was merely trying to be sarcastic, but failed miserably.

That's what I wanted to know, what is the figure for financial aid cheating. Is it such a big problem in need of such a drastic fix? I believe it is better to let a few slip through the cracks than to have this kind of peered reviewed financial aid program.

Also wouldn't it be hard to get a fake tax documentation? Or is it in China one can easily obtain these kinds of documentation through nefarious dealings with local officials. I'm leaning towards yes.

Be careful this doesn't turn into another "dou zheng da hui" situation, with kids settling private scores in this way.

pay taxes? very funny. is it hard to get hold of fake tax documentation? your leanings are correct jay.

That the goverment try to distinguish "fake poor" is a good initiative since in several countries, many people use laws of the system to get money / bonus / scholarship etc. what is unfair ; However asking help to students to investigate "fake poor" is still incredible idea - however all ways have to be tried - We can only judge the results after a first try -

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