[CHE] With New Survey, Chinese Colleges Ask Students What They Really Think

The Chronicle of Higher Education (August 9, 2010)

“With New Survey, Chinese Colleges Ask Students What They Really Think” by Mary Hennock


Imagine a university where student numbers have doubled within five years. That is the problem facing Inner Mongolia University of Science and Technology.

Located in the bleak, industrial city of Baotou, a megacity built on mining, the campus typifies the overstretched state of China’s colleges, particularly academically average ones.

The university now enrolls 19,000 undergraduates. With an average class size of 100, “students cannot get individual attention” and teacher training is a “total blank,” says Zheng Wenguang, head of the higher-education department.

When Mr. Zheng began teaching there in the 1980s, new hires spent two years as assistant instructors alongside a seasoned professor. Today new faculty members “go directly into teaching because student numbers are so big.” he says.

Mr. Zheng is hoping to find some solutions to that problem by having his institution participate in a new student survey, created and organized by Tsinghua University, one of the country’s elite universities.

The survey, which was designed in collaboration with the influential National Survey of Student Engagement, based at Indiana University at Bloomington, asks what students think of their education and how they spend their time.

Forty-nine institutions participated this year, and confidential results of their students’ responses will be given to them soon.

The results will enable administrators to pinpoint problems and identify reforms that might improve teaching styles, course materials, and students’ overall enjoyment of campus life.

The administrators of NSSE China, as it is known, are also working on a national report that will be released publicly, to identify broader trends in student engagement.

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