As discussed and agreed by Dean DePauw on April, 1, 2015, I will cover the difference of higher education among China, United States, and Finland based on my own experience.
Part 1 How to Get in University: China, Finland, and the United States
The Chinese College Entrance Exam system has be described in the post named “Improving Higher Education”. I would like to introduce the College Entrance Exam in Finland. It is a nation wide exam as well, and all the high school graduate students take the same exam on the same day. The exam is held twice a year, one in the fall, and one in the spring. There are 4 subjects in total, and native language test is compulsory. But students can choose the best language they master among Finish, Swedish or Sami. For the other three subjects, students can choose from Finish or Swedish, other foreign languages, math, and general studies (sciences or liberal arts). Students can not only choose which subject of the exam to take, but can also choose the difficulty of the exam. For subject math, Finish or Swedish, and other foreign languages, a easier version and a harder version are provided. But students are required to take at least one harder version of the subject. For the students who pass the test but not satisfied with their scores, they can re-take the exams as mangy times as they want or until they are satisfied with their scores, except the native language test.
The atmosphere of the College Entrance Exam is much more relaxing compared to that in China. Students in other grades will keep the normal educational activity, and no police, no headline news. Students can take food to the exam room, and can go to the bathroom during the exam, which are impossible in China. After the exam, every student will get a certificate of taking the exam of 7 levels depending on their performance in the exam. The certificate, together with the transcript from high school is the reference index for college admission.
Compared to China and Finland, the college admission in the United States is more complicated, since the admission office in universities will evaluate more aspects of the applicant. SAT score, personal statement, transcript from high school, resume, and extracurricular activities will all be taken into account. All these aspects will be evaluated, and best applicants will be the winners to get in the university.
Part 2 Financial Aid in Chinese University and Finland
The cost of higher education is always a concern for students and their family. Luckily, the tuition in most Chinese universities are not expensive. In general, the tuition for each academic year ranges from $500 to $1500 depending on the university and more important the major.
The tuition of normal education universities and majors are cheaper, since the government encourages young people to devote their career into education and it will pay part of the tuition for all the students who majored in. Some students in this major will sign a contract, stated that they will work in a fundamental education institution (elementary, secondary, and high school ) as a teacher for at least 2 years, and they get tuition waive in this way. The contracts encourage them to serve in institutions in less developed areas in China, such as west China.
For majors relating to agriculture, forestry, and fundamentals such as biology, chemistry, math and physics, the tuition is relatively cheaper too. For example, I paid $600 per year for major Food Science and Engineering in Northeast Forestry University. Every student in my major also got a stipend of $50 from Department of Forestry and Agriculture in Chinese government each semester, but the students in biology, chemistry, math and physics got a stipend of $80 from Department of Education each semester. They got the stipend because they are more likely to be a teacher after graduation, so the government supports them to get educated.
For majors art, design, computer engineering, medicine and more, they cost of their education is higher than other majors, so they paid more expensive tuition, normally more than $1000 per year. But this amount is also an affordable expensive for most Chinese families from my perspective. So most of students that I know do not take a student loan or work part time to pay for their tuition, and our parents will pay for that.
But there are family that cannot afford their children to receive higher education, and students will can get student loans from the government without interest. After providing the wealth certificate of the family, and the leader of family proving that they are under poverty, the students from this family can get the loan covering their tuition and basic living expense. These students least likely go to graduate school after undergraduate graduation, because they need a job immediately to pay off the debit. I had a talented roommate during my undergraduate, and she took the loan and worked as a tutor for several students during night and weekends. She wish she can get further education, but the needs to pay off the debits and her parents’s wanting her to support their family drove her to find a highly paid job, as a sales representative, even not relating to our major. I feel sad for her, and I wish her to get back to graduate school at some point, although getting back to school after work is much more difficult in China than in the United States.
Besides tuition, the expense of living is quite cheaper in Chinese universities. Most students will live in the dorms on campus, and it costs $100 to $500 per year depending on the quality of the dorms. But most university will only have one type of dorm, and students have no options. I paid $100 per year living in a room shared with other 7 female students during my undergraduate, and it was an old dorm. We sleep in the same room, and everyone has her own bed provided by the university. There are 20 rooms on each floor, and we share 5 bathrooms (no shower) and about 10 taps. All the students take shower at the same place, and there are 2 very big shower room for females and males separately for the whole university. We paid $0.1 cent per minute for the hot running water, and the student ID put in the device before showering will record that. Some newly built university provides better dorms, and 4 or 6 students sharing one room is most common in Chinese universities.
Following are pictures of a fashioned dorm (1) and a tradition dorm in China (2).
Students are not required to eat on campus, since there are more delicious and all kinds of food outside but near campus. Students prefer to eat off campus, because there are more delicious options to choose. We do not have dining plans, and we pay the food directly, about $1-$2 for a really nice meal. Following is the image of the dining hall in Northeast Forestry University (3).
The books in China are much less cheaper than in the United States, around $10. We also get used books for more cheaper prices. The gyms are normally free to students, and the buses on campus are also free. These are all the expensive that I can think of for a undergraduate in China.
Most scholarships are need-based, which means students who can prove their family is poor and also get good grades can get the scholarship. Students from middle class level, or whose both parents have jobs, are only eligible for a few scholarships. In my undergraduate school, these students can only get one scholarship from the Chinese government, which is very competitive (only the best one student in my department for 2 semesters can get this one) and one scholarship with the highest only 100$ per semester from the university. But other students from poor families, are eligible for many scholarships provided by the industry or alumni with much higher amount of $500 each semester. The best student can not receive the scholarship more than once. I do not agree with the scholarship system in China, because it is unfair for the students who work hard and come from a not poor family. These students also need the scholarships to approve their talent and hard work. The evaluation on students who is eligible should not be conducted only on the family level, since students in universities are adults and we should make a living by ourselves. I agree that some scholarships go to students from poor families but the receipents should be above a certain level of their academic performance. Harding working and gifted students needs to be awarded no matter what kind of family they come from. All the universities are strict about the ethic rules. If the students cheated in the exam, or broken other ethic rules, they lost the chance to get the scholarships for the whole undergraduate period.
For graduate studies, the tuition is higher, around $1500 or above. Before 2014, top 20% of the graduate students receive totally free education from our government, which means the tuition is waived and they get a stipend enough for living every month. The rest of the students with relatively worse performance need to pay the tuition and living expense by their own. But starting from 2014, all the students need to support themselves. There are scholarships for excellent students, and the students are evaluated on GPA and research performances and selected each semester. Only the best 10% students can get their total cost covered by scholarship, and 50% students get proportionally covered. I cannot tell it is right or wrong, since it has not been conducted for a long time.
For the students studying abroad, it depends on the programs. As undergraduate exchange programs, since most of these programs are the agreements between 2 universities, students need to cover the expense. But students want to pursue a PhD degree and visiting scholars can get the sponsorship from Chinese Scholarship Council (CSC) (4) for whole tuition and living expense, even the 2 way air tickets. But the students who get the support need to sign a contract and agree to come back to China for serving 2 years after graduation, otherwise they need to pay off the money they get. The CSC prefers to support students who get admission in world famous universities and majoring in needed fields in China. The scholarships from CSC are great support for the students and benefit the higher education in China, since most students will come back and get faculty jobs in Chinese universities. Chinese universities favour to get in faculty with abroad degrees（5）.
The Finish students are very lucky, because all the higher education is free in Finland. Students will also get a living stipend from government each month, and even the PhD students benefit from the student discounts in public transportation, meals in a chain restaurant around Finland, and the cheaper off-campus housing. There are no dorm on campus in the University of Helsinki, and I assume that most universities will not have on campus housing since it is a small country. The government support the students who study abroad, and I am not sure about the specific amount the government will pay, but they pay a similar amount compared to the cost of educating students study in Finland. Students need to cover the rest if the government do not provide enough financial support.
Part 3 General Student Experience in Chinese University
I attended Northeast Forestry University, Harbin, China in 2010, majoring in Food Science and Engineering in College of Forestry. It is a 4-year undergraduate program with bachelor’s degree in Engineering. There are 60 students in each grade in my department, and about 300 students on the same grade as me in my college. One undergraduate advisor took care of the 300 students. He held a master degree in Philosophy from a top tier university in China, and the reason he got this job is that the university wants undergraduate advisor from better university to bring the advanced education pedagogy to our university.
All students take the same courses in our fields, but as an engineering students, we are required to take at least one course in art, history or politics each semester and we are free to choose which course we take. We graduate based on whether our credits meet the requirement. Most of our course are lecturing and lab. Generally, 80% of the scores are on the final exam, and 10% on homework, and 10% on attendance. I cannot compare the work load among China, Finland and the United States, since I use my second language to study when I am abroad.
Once the Chinese students get in a major, it is very difficult to change the major. During my undergraduate, only the best student at the end of freshman year get the precious to transfer to other majors. More and more universities build the bridge with foreign universities, and provide the chance for their students to study abroad. I got the chance as an exchange student in the University of Helsinki in my junior year. All the sophomore and junior students are eligible to apply, and TOEFL score, GPA are the preliminary evaluation. The second selecting round is interview in both Chinese and English, and the selected 3 students each year will be trained shortly. All the credits I gained in the University of Helsinki are transferable to Northeast Forestry University. I wish more programs like this are available to students and more funding will be provided.
Overall, the higher education in China, Finland and the United States are a lot different. I am appreciated that Northeast Forestry University, the University of Helsinki and Virginia Tech gave me the chance the experience the difference and educate me to a better one.