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Print Edition> Forum
UPDATED: September 13, 2010 NO. 37 SEPTEMBER 16, 2010
Should Students Be Admitted to Universities on Special Ability Alone?

A high school graduate from Shaanxi Province, Sun Jiankun, found it hard to understand his college application experience. He only believed fate played a joke on him. Sun's long-cherished wish to study history at Fudan University was enthusiastically welcomed by the prestigious university. But the talented student's dream was eventually shattered when the provincial admission office refused to send his personal file to the university, a necessary procedure for students' college admission in China.

The 19-year-old student of Xi'an Gaoxin No.1 High School was promised a slot by Fudan University because of his demonstrated ability in Chinese classics studies before he took the college entrance exam in July

In 2009, Sun took part in a contest held by the Fudan University and impressed judges and professors with his thesis on Classic of the Mountains and Seas, a classic text about 2,000 years old. Sun's paper won one of the two top prizes for the contest. After two rounds of interviews, Fudan University added Sun's name to the university's special admission program for 2010 and promised to admit him—as long as his college entrance exam grade achieved a local enrollment mark for top-grade universities, of which Fudan is one.

Unfortunately, Sun ended up with 553 points, six points below the cutoff. Even so, Fudan University was still determined to accept Sun because of his special talent.

But the Shaanxi Admission Office refused to break the admission rule and send Sun's file to Fudan University. Eight professors from the university's history, philosophy, Chinese and archaeology departments submitted a joint petition to the Shaanxi office, requiring it to make an exception for Sun, but failed to move the officials. Sun was finally admitted by Shanxi University, a second-grade university.

After Sun's rollercoaster admission experience was reported, many people condemned the Shaanxi office for not giving Sun an opportunity to study at his dream university. They said, while fairness in the college entrance exam was important, admission procedures should make exceptions for students with special talents. But others say the college entrance exam should apply the same standards to everyone; otherwise its seriousness would be compromised.

Exceptions for talent

Ding Yongxun (www.yzdsb.com.cn): Fairness is important for the college entrance exam. But fairness doesn't mean applying a single standard to measure all students, which could destroy the futures of talented students who are not good at taking exams. When fairness conflicts with the goal of selecting the best qualified students, unfortunately most people will favor fairness.

These people fail to realize using a single standard to measure all students is unfair to those with special talents but who are unable to attain a high grade. Sun's failure to get into his dream university is not the intention of fairness in the college entrance exam but the aftermath of rigid admission regulations and the lack of universities' autonomy to choose students they want.

When we talk about giving universities greater autonomy to recruit students, people may be concerned about possible fraud and preferential treatment enjoyed by students from wealthy or powerful families. People use this concern to justify the refusal to make an exception for Sun. This reflects a dilemma in reforming the admission process: Whether reforms should be carried out to enhance the public's trust in it or conduct reforms when its credibility improves?

I think we shouldn't wait for the admission process to improve. Instead, we should use the non-admission of Sun as an example to show universities deserve greater autonomy in admission while remaining under public monitoring. This could be a step forward for the college entrance exam system.

Wu Jie (Yanzhao Evening News): Since universities have some autonomy to choose students they want and eight professors approved the same applicant, Sun definitely should be admitted. Universities now enjoy limited leeway in selecting their candidates, but their autonomy does not go beyond the line of college entrance exam grades and regulations on admission procedures.

Of course, it is the duty of local admission offices to implement these regulations. But when talented students fail to achieve admission to the universities most suitable for them, it means the students lose out as well as the universities. In foreign countries and Hong Kong, institutions of higher learning enjoy full freedom to screen candidates while the autonomy enjoyed by universities on the Chinese mainland is still strictly limited by grading.

Chen Xiao'er (hlj.rednet.cn): The Shaanxi Admission Office should have been praised for obeying regulations and fulfilling its duty. But why was it widely criticized? The fundamental cause is it treated a practical matter with a very inflexible attitude.

It was typically bureaucratic that admission officials refused to break convention and instead obeyed regulations word for word. Essentially, education is for people's development. But one student's future was sacrificed when officials chose to stay within the bounds of regulations for self-protection. Their decision is problematic in terms of nurturing talent and upholding education.

Cao Lin (The Beijing News): Although there are admission rules, they are not supposed to be used as barriers for really talented students. The petitioning of the professors proves Sun has talent in one field and so making an exception for him wouldn't be connected to corruption or fraud. Moreover, making exceptions for acknowledged talent would strengthen the regulations' credibility and seriousness.

The fear a single exception would impact the fairness of admission process is totally unwarranted. Only a lack of transparency would result in a hotbed of corruption.

Sun's case reveals the conflict between the old college admission scheme and reforms aimed at giving institutions of higher learning greater autonomy in choosing students.

The old system of using students' college entrance exam grades as the only admission criteria is problematic and the greatest side effect is our education became exam-oriented. To solve these problems and improve our education, some prestigious universities are allowed to select candidates through interviews and recommendation of high school principals, while taking their grades in the college entrance exam for reference. The ongoing reform of the college admission reform is far from enough.

Fair and square

Chun Hua (Guangzhou Daily): The allegation the Shaanxi Admission Office killed the future of a talented student is false, because it was Sun's grades in the college entrance exam that failed him, not the office.

On one hand, the public holds to ideally there should be no boundaries for talented people; on the other, they fear the college admission process is abused through unfairness. In a social environment where people doubt fairness and justice, the inflexibility of the Shaanxi Admission Office has turned out to be rare and precious.

Therefore, in Sun's case, sacrificing the college dream of a talented student in traditional culture is actually promoting fairness, which is more important than anything else.

Of course, selection should not be biased by blind pursuit of fairness. The government should therefore learn from Sun's case, and enable rules of selection for the specially talented so they will have access to the universities most suitable for them.

Guo Cuiri (Yangtze Evening News): People have long denounced cheating in the college admission process.

Many would like to turn to past cases to show the importance of "exceptional admission" of talented students. For instance, Qian Zhongshu, a well-known Chinese scholar, scored only 15 in math, but was admitted by the preeminent Tsinghua University in 1929 for his expertise in Chinese and English.

In my opinion, it is inappropriate and unreasonable to use Qian's case to criticize the current college admission process. The reason many Qian-like scholars have made enormous accomplishments was not because of a loose admission process, but because they are sober, ardent and persistent learners in the fields they specialize in.

At present, learning facilities are much better than before. Any reference material can be found with a click of a computer's mouse. Therefore, anyone who is determined to delve into and research a certain subject should not necessarily have to go to a college to do it.

It must be admitted there are many loopholes in the current college admission process. So it is unreasonable to expect colleges to absorb all kinds of talented people. Some real geniuses can make huge achievements in their own ways without any assistance from college.

As a result, the Shaanxi Admission Office's inflexibility on principle was not wrong.

Guo Wenjing (www.xinhuanet.com): Currently, the primary challenge of China's college admission process is not how it ploughs students with special talents, but how to maintain fairness and justice.

Therefore, the Shaanxi Admission Office's refusal of the petitioning by eight professors at Fudan University is actually strong evidence of enforcing fair play in college admission. It has in effect guarded the process from corruption.

In my opinion, we should jump out of the routine of the development of a student. All roads lead to Rome and success can be achieved in other ways. If Sun is a real genius in Chinese ancient culture, he can still shine in any place other than Fudan University; if he isn't, he might not keep the "genius" title even if he went to study there. In other words, can Fudan University be sure it can make Sun a master of ancient culture through four years of study?

China has classes designed for exceptionally gifted children in colleges and universities, and they used to be very popular. Up until now, this kind of program is 32 years old. But they have failed to produce any one as famed and successful as Nobel Prize winners like Tsung-Dao Lee and Chen-Ning Yang. Peking, Tsinghua and Nanjing universities have all stopped the operation of such classes, and only the University of Science and Technology of China and Xi'an Jiaotong University still have classes for the gifted under 14 of age. Such classes are in effect special admission programs and the students admitted are regarded as so-called geniuses by others. But what can college offer them? Are they turning into visionary scientists like Albert Einstein? The answer is clear.

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