A Brief Intro to Student Affairs in China

On May 25, NASPA staff learned about student affairs in China during a presentation delivered by the first NASPA intern from China, Tong “Zoe” Ziyi. She is a graduate student at Fudan University and concurrently serves as a part-time student counselor. From the perspective of both a student and a student counselor, Zoe took the audience on a journey of exploration as a Chinese student affairs professional.

Higher Education in China

Popularization of Higher Education in China

Chinese higher education has been developing quickly in recent years. Having embraced the popularization of higher education since the beginning of 21st Century, the goal of higher education has changed from elite education to cultivating applied talents.

Government-dominated Higher Education in China

In the early days of the People’s Republic of China, the government implemented centralized planning and management for higher education. In 1993 the State Council proposed the establishment of the government’s macro-management of higher education and universities’ independent rights of running school. The government is still in a dominant position in relation to higher education. For example, majors and enrollment programs of public universities must be approved by the Ministry of Education and provincial education departments. The Ministry of Education stipulates that public universities have compulsory courses, such as Marxist theory, military theory, foreign languages and computer science. There are administrative rankings in public universities, similar to those of the government, and the presidents of public universities are appointed by the government. Public funding for universities provides strong economic leverage for the government.

Comparison of Student Affairs in China and U.S.

Nature & Origin of Student Affairs

From its inception, student affairs in U.S. has been separate from academics with the core mission of supporting students’ extra-curricular needs. However, student counselors in China originally had nothing to do with student affairs, instead they were supposed to provide ideological and political education. As the development of higher education in China progressed, the duties of student counselors gradually expanded to include consulting, career services, financial aid and so on. The ideological and political education still remains an important part of Chinese student affairs.

For example, the Chinese Communist Party puts forward the concept of “Socialist Core Values” and then assigns the curriculum in the universities as lectures, workshops and essay contests. Student counselors also conduct activities for the student CCP branch. The China Communist Party aims at recruiting well-educated members, and there are party branches on the campuses, where party branches regularly organize theoretical study and practical activities.

Working Range of Student Affairs

Apart from the unique ideological and political education, student affairs in China still shares a lot of commonalities in functions. Here is a Venn diagram which clearly shows both the similarity and difference in the working range of student affairs in U.S. and in China.

The red parts are not included in student affairs in China. The blue parts are those practiced in a different way in China. Diversity, inclusion and multiculturalism are major aspects of student affairs in China. There are 56 ethnic groups in China and conflicts between students of different ethnic groups mainly come from their different habits and customs. Some students of minority groups are from low-income families and rural areas, so they need more help with financial aid and academic assistance. Student leadership development programs facilitate the leadership of students in China, with less theoretical or systematical trainings of students’ leadership. There are initiatives similar to service learning and community service programs in China. However, the idea of “social practice activities” are more popular than the concept of “service learning and community service” in China. 

Organizational Structure and Working Ways

There are vice presidents who are responsible for student affairs, and offices of student affairs which handle related issues in both U.S. and Chinese universities. In China, the duties of the vice president and the student affairs offices also contain moral education components. They provide lectures and courses on national education to the students.

There are no “student centers” in universities in China, but they achieve similar things in different ways. There is a Youth Corps Committee branch on campuses, which is set up by Chinese Communist Party. The Committee branch conducts the Student Union which provides programs and services for the campus and the local community. Also, there are all kinds of student clubs and organizations which is supervised by the student government.

There is a unique student affairs position in China - student counselor. In Chinese universities, there is a concept of “class” which is similar to the “homeroom” in the U.S. The class is composed of students who are in similar majors and grade level. A student counselor is similar to a homeroom teacher whose duties involve every aspect of student life on campus. They are the first person to reach out if students have issues or difficulties. Usually, student counselors remind students of important notices and help students with the logistical help, execute initiatives and activities at the class level, and give counsel on almost every aspect of campus life, from academic to residential life. Student financial aid offices often send the financial-aid policies to the student counselors, and then student counselors help the students in need apply. Of course, the student counselor can’t solve all the problems alone. They work with relevant departments on the campus and get professional support from them. Also, the student leaders in the class can be good assistants of student counselors.

Professionalization of Student Affairs Staff

Professionalization of student affairs is still a new concept in China. Just three years ago, the Ministry of Education published the Standards for Core Competencies of Student Counselors. According to the document, student counselors should have bachelor’s degree and above, with no limitation on the major. Although there is a major called “ideological and political education” which is related to the occupation of student counselors, it is more about Marxist theories rather than higher education. The education of student affairs professionals in China emphasizes theories instead of practice. To get more practical skills, many student affairs professionals are studying for the certificate of psychological consultants and career development mentors. The duties of student counselors include everything about student life, which is tricky because it’s impossible to solve all the problems by one person. It’s a real challenge for the student counselors to develop their specialties among trivial things.