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"Will My Degree Still Be Recognized?” - China Revokes Special Pandemic-Era Online Learning Policies

Updated: Feb 7, 2023

On ​January 28, 2023, the sub-agency under the Chinese Ministry of Education (“MOE”) responsible for foreign degree recognition, the Chinese Services Center for Scholarly Exchange (“CSCSE”), issued an announcement revoking the special policies it has in place to accommodate the influx of online and distance learning that took place due to COVID-19. This is yet another step the Chinese government is taking to return life to the status quo as the country transitions out of the pandemic.


The status quo of foreign degree recognition in China is that the CSCSE does not recognize a foreign degree received by a Chinese student if it was completed, in whole or in part, through online or distance learning. For the past two years, the recently canceled special rules offered a limited reprieve and unique exception to those Chinese students who needed to continue their studies online during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, these special rules only applied to foreign degree programs intended to be taught in person. Fully online degree programs that were designed to be delivered virtually, regardless of the pandemic, were and are still not recognized, even during pandemic-era policies.


In an attempt to alleviate the challenges faced by many Chinese students who could not return abroad to pursue or continue their higher education studies due to health and safety restrictions presented by the pandemic, the CSCSE adopted temporary special foreign degree certification policies starting in April 2020, which the Chinese MOE later affirmed in September 2020.


In the recent January announcement, the CSCSE encouraged Chinese students to return abroad to pursue their foreign studies “as soon as possible.” This appears to be the case even for Chinese students who have completed all their degree courses but only need to finish their thesis research and papers.


The revocation comes into effect immediately and applies to all students enrolled in the Spring 2023 semester (which the CSCSE defines as the “first semester in the first half of the year in 2023”) and onward. Recognizing the abrupt nature of this change, the CSCSE seems willing to consider “exceptional circumstances” on a case-by-case basis if a Chinese student cannot return to study abroad in Spring 2023.


As Chinese students start to return to foreign campuses this year, it is important for colleges and universities to have an in-depth understanding of these rapidly evolving policies and provide the necessary support to their Chinese students – especially since many institutions will likely have groups of Chinese students who have completed their foreign degrees through a varied hodge-podge of online and in-person hybrid formats.

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