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Chinese government educational authorities provide accreditation of diplomas or degrees issued by overseas universities or colleges on students’application basis. Accreditation may help employers in China (especially the state-owned companies and governmental departments) verify if the diplomas or degrees are comparable to overseas qualifications.
The Chinese Service Centre for Scholarly Exchange (“CSCSE”) (http://www.cscse.cn/), an institution under the Ministry of Education of China, is the only official organization that provides credential evaluation and recognition services on the overseas diplomas or degrees in China. Normally, it is procedural for the students who actually study abroad or study under an approved Sino-foreign cooperation program in China to apply to CSCSE for accreditation and CSCSE will take into account the overseas residence time for study during the accreditation and evaluation of overseas diplomas or degrees. The diplomas or degrees related to pure cross-border online education issued by an overseas university or college cannot be accredited by CSCSE according to the currently effective rules.
Considering that many Chinese students are unable to return to overseas universities or colleges due to travel or immigration restrictions resulting from COVID-19 pandemic, on April 3, 2020, CSCSE issued a statement, clarifying its positions on the accreditation relating to the study during such difficult times:
(i) it understands and supports the measures taken by many overseas colleges and universities to help Chinese students complete their studies during the pandemic period, such as extending registration date, offering online courses, and other flexible arrangement of graduate dissertation defense;
(ii) online courses taken partially due to the inability to attend campus, which leads to the lack of overseas residence time, will not negatively influence the accreditation results;
(iii) Chinese students are advised to maintain records of their communications with overseas colleges and universities which can demonstrate that they have indeed been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, CSCSE recently found that some of the overseas colleges and universities and brokers, citing COVID-19 pandemic concerns as an excuse, keep launching various online courses and, through lowering the recruitment thresholds, simplifying graduation requirements, shortening study time and other ways, recruiting Chinese students to study in such online courses. They even claim that it is an easy way to obtain overseas diplomas and degrees without a need to go abroad. CSCSE suspected that those colleges and universities are selling their diplomas or degrees for purpose of making profits in nature, from which Chinese students would suffer great damages. Therefore, on March 19, 2021, CSCSE issued a supplementary statement, altering Chinese students to risks associated with study abroad so as to avoid suffering losses from those poor quality, profit-making driven online courses.
CSCSE, in its supplementary statement on March 19, underscores the following points:
(i) Chinese students should select their courses carefully and cautiously after they are fully informed of the courses information;
(ii) CSCSE will continue to accredit overseas diplomas and degrees that the Chinese students have obtained after they meet the awarding requirements, even if they are forced by COVID-19 pandemic to complete some or all of their courses online;
(iii) However, CSCSE firmly opposes that any overseas colleges or universities launches online courses utilizing COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse but for making profits purpose and therefore, diplomas or degrees issued under those online courses would not be able to receive accreditation by CSCSE.
Unfortunately, the supplementary statement did not give any specific criterion that can measure those online courses unacceptable to CSCSE. We have reasons to believe that in the eyes of CSCSE, overseas colleges and universities should deliver their courses in their campuses to ensure the quality and online education, as an alternative way, should be grounded with necessity caused by reasons beyond their control such as COVID-19 pandemic and on a temporary and short-term basis only.