Controversial new degree program in China may require military training for students

Controversy has arisen around University of Edinburgh’s newly established joint degree program with Zhejiang University in China, due to military training and theory being included in the compulsory courses, according to a recent report by the Curriculum Student Progression Committee (CSPC).

The new program was ratified in a CSPC meeting on 21 January, 2015, where the proposal for the Zhejiang – Edinburgh Institute, drafted by newly-appointed Executive Dean of the institute, Professor John Stewart, Director of Edinburgh’s Biomedical Teaching Organisation, was reviewed.

However this proved to be controversial, as included in the proposal was a breakdown of the compulsory courses required by Zhejiang University, which listed both a 60 UoE credit course in military training for first year students, and a 20 UoE credit course in military theory for second years.

Statements made following the CSPC review have illuminated that University of Edinburgh does not plan on allowing these courses to be credit bearing, and that they will not be mandatory for international students to partake in. Professor Stewart was unavailable for comment at time of press.

Imogen Wilson, EUSA Vice President of Academic Affairs, was present at the CSPC meeting. “I have been told that international students studying at Zhejiang will not be required to undertake the training, and Edinburgh will not be awarding credits to students for the military training module.

“These distinctions are important and I’ll make sure that they are written in stone. Perhaps this should be part of a wider discussion of whether Edinburgh should partner with countries where military training is compulsory, of which China is not the only one,” she told The Student.

The new joint degree program has been established by the school for Biomedical Sciences and is aimed at providing both Chinese and international students with a dual undergraduate degree from both Zhejiang University and University of Edinburgh, with courses to be delivered on Zhejiang’s new international campus and research facilities in Haining.

However, Chinese universities have been required to mandate military training courses for undergraduates since 1998, when the ‘Military Service Law of the People’s Republic of China’ was enacted by the Standing Committee of the Ninth National People’s Congress.

The law states that “to defend the motherland and resist aggression is the sacred duty of every citizen of People’s Republic of China.” It continues, “People’s Republic of China citizens, regardless of ethnic status, race, occupation, family background, religious belief and education, have the obligation to perform military service in accordance with the provisions of this Law.”

Under the description of course aims for Zhejiang University’s Department of Physical and Military Education, it is stated that “national defense education has been pushed forward steadily, laying a solid foundation for the improvement of students’ overall quality.”

Image credit: Rolex Dela Pena

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