Concerns Over Suicides Among Higher Education Students in China

  • More students in China use studies to postpone the entrance into the very competitive labor market.
  • More suicides of students are reported in recent years.
  • The government will release a new Code of Conduct for Academic Supervisors.

In recent years, more students in China have chosen to obtain a master’s degree or a PhD as a way to postpone their entrance into the labor market, either out of a mere hope of increasing their competitiveness in the future, or simply because they haven’t found a proper job. However, graduate education is not meant for everyone. The pressure of being able to graduate on time, the relationship with academic supervisor, the higher expectations from the society…For the students, it has become a question of who gives up first.

Dalian University of Technology announced the suicide of the student.

According to a study, over 10% of master’s students can’t graduate on time in China, while this number surges to 65% for PhD candidates. In China, there are several rigid standards for a PhD candidate to achieve before he can graduate, one of which is the notorious “SCI papers.” Without several publications on SCI journals, which is quite difficult even for many professors, all the other work of the PhD candidate seems trivial.

Unfortunately, not everyone handles the pressure well. On October 13, a master’s student from Dalian University of Technology hanged himself at the lab. He left a letter in which he expressed his concerns about being unable to meet graduation standards. In September, at least four similar cases had been reported in other universities.

On Zhihu, a thread about the student’s suicide has received over nine thousand replies.

Earlier this year, the Ministry of Education of PRC released an announcement encouraging universities to be more innovative when measuring students’ academic achievements. However, not all internet users find the new rules reassuring because they worry this may leave more room for manipulation. They are especially concerned about giving the supervisors the last word over the graduation decision, since the supervisor is another major cause of suicides among master’s and PhD candidates.

In China, students usually call their supervisors “boss.” Supervisors decide for their students which project they should choose. Gradually, students become submissive and allow the supervisors to exploit them in the hope to get a better project in return. On the other side, the supervisors become more and more used to the power and may go over the line in the end.

Tao ended his life after being exploited by his supervisors for four years.

Tao from Wuhan University of Technology chose to end his life in March 2018. His sister claimed that Tao’s supervisor forced Tao to call him “Daddy” every day and used him for personal errands. After being prohibited by his supervisor from transferring to a foreign university, he gave up. It was the first case of this kind to have received national attention, but far from the last one.

The Ministry of Education of PRC announced in September that a new Code of Conduct for Academic Supervisors would be released soon, aiming to regulate the behavior of supervisors and to improve their relationship with students. While many people are expecting this new code to be the solution, others still believe the problem can’t be solved with a code of conduct. As more students join in the previously relatively small academic world, they fear that more tragedies are yet to come.

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