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Legal Alerts and News Updates

“Please Don’t Worry…” – The CSCSE Responds to Student Concerns Over Foreign Degree Certification

On the first work day after the Chinese New Year holiday last week, the Chinese Ministry of Education (MOE), through its Chinese Services Center for Scholar Exchange (CSCSE), issued an announcement that revoked special pandemic policies on foreign degree certification (the “January CSCSE Announcement”). Click here to read our prior article discussing the January CSCSE Announcement.

The January CSCSE Announcement served as an abrupt end to special certification rules that allowed Chinese international students who could not return abroad due to the COVID-19 pandemic to complete their studies online. With the special certification rules in place for the past two years, Chinese international students could continue their foreign degrees through remote learning without worrying that their online learning would affect their foreign degree authentication. Now, with the special rules canceled, the Chinese government is instructing Chinese students to return abroad and study in person—“as soon as possible”—or risk their foreign degree certification.

As expected with any rapid change in policy, the CSCSE received floods of inquiries from concerned students and families who were left scrambling to make last-minute visa, travel, and accommodation arrangements for the current academic semester. In response to such concerns, the CSCSE has released a series of FAQs in an attempt to clarify the current state of foreign degree authentication in China following the January CSCSE Announcement. Our in-house translation is below for your reference. Here are some key takeaways from the FAQs to the January CSCSE Announcement:

  • Immediate Effect. The revocation of the special certification rules applies immediately starting with the first academic semester of the first half of 2023 (e.g., the Spring 2023 semester for those in the Northern hemisphere, or the Fall 2023 semester for those located in the Southern hemisphere). The only online learning exceptions for degree certification that continue to apply are for students located in Ukraine and Russia.

  • Online Degrees Never Recognized. Through its FAQs, the CSCSE emphasized multiple times that foreign degrees that were intended to be delivered fully online were never and remain still not recognized by the Chinese government. It is important for institutions to clearly distinguish purely online programs from in-person programs that were temporarily converted to various hybrid learning models during the pandemic. The CSCSE is keenly aware that many Chinese companies intentionally blurred the lines and took advantage of Chinese students interested in foreign degrees over the past few years, and such practices were explicitly condemned by several MOE statements (here are links to the April 2020 MOE notice and the September 2020 MOE notice – available only in Chinese). PRC study abroad trade organizations, such as BOSSA/COSSA, have also agonized over how some agencies “defrauded” students with false promises of foreign online degrees that could be certified (when in fact, those policies remained unaffected during the pandemic).

  • Special Cases May be Considered. Recognizing that some students may have already made arrangements with their institutions to engage in online study for the current semester, or that it may be unfeasible for students to make the necessary arrangements in time to study in person abroad, the CSCSE tried to quell the concerns of students and families by explaining that it is willing to consider each student’s unique circumstances on a case-by-case basis. Some of the reasons cited by the CSCSE which may be considered include visa delays, flight availability, housing availability, program quotas for in-person study, and other institutional limitations to support in-person learning.

  • Put It In Writing. On the one hand, the CSCSE is telling students “not to worry.” On the other hand, it is carefully cautioning students to ensure they have all supporting documents in writing in order to prevail on their degree certification application. For example, students who are unable to return to in-person study in Spring 2023 (Fall 2023 in the southern hemisphere) due to the schools’ regulations or policies should maintain a copy of such relevant regulations or policies. This is where foreign colleges and universities must step up to facilitate this need. Similarly, students who encounter travel-related difficulties should maintain copies of visa appointment records, flight cancellations, correspondence with potential places of accommodation, and any other relevant materials that demonstrate their efforts to return to in-person study. Finally, students should keep written materials from any online courses.

The IIE’s latest Open Door Report Fact Sheet on China tracked a total of 290,086 Chinese international students studying in the United States from 2021 to 2022. Despite downturns in enrollment brought on by the pandemic, China remains the number one source of international students studying in the States, with an economic impact of over $10.5 billion dollars. Now, encouraged by the January CSCSE Announcement, it is anticipated that more Chinese students will study internationally.

Colleges and universities should be prepared to support the return of Chinese students back on campus and in person, which institutions are likely well-trained and equipped to do. The trickier part will be to help Chinese students navigate the PRC’s fast-paced post-pandemic policy changes as they seek to preserve the authenticity of their foreign degrees.

XL Law Translation - CSCSE - Degree Certification FAQs - 02-08-23
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