Illustrations: Peter C. Espina/GT
Although it has been years since I graduated, I always fancy a visit to my university not only because of the nostalgia for the four years of my youth spent at my Alma Mater, but what attracts me the most are the picturesque scenery and the abundant educational resources there.
I'm not alone. In fact, universities are one of the most attractive "tourist spots" in China, with high-ranking ones considered a must-see attraction by many travelers. It's not unheard of that tens of thousands of visitors flood into Wuhan University per day during the cherry blossom season and Peking University to experience the academic atmosphere there.
Therefore, it's quite easy to understand people's disappointment when Sun Yat-sen University (SYSU) has recently banned tourists from its campus. According to media reports, the ban came after the university's classes were interrupted by people with mental disorders. Although the ban is said to be imposed for security concerns, it soon triggered opposition online.
In fact, the infrastructure, hardware facilities and educational resources of Chinese universities are largely supported by national financial allocation. As public resources, universities are supposed to serve the society and the public has the right pay a free visit to what they have financially supported.
Unlike the West, many universities in China, fenced and guarded around the clock, are like Ivory Towers where students hardly step out of the small social circles they have formed. While college students are always encouraged to participate in various kinds of campus groups to accumulate "social" experiences, they are sheltered by fences and guards, and given no access to the real world. Opening up means more exchanges and integration with people outside their community and is an important way to prepare them for the workplace.
Some defend SYSU's ban on outsiders, citing security concerns. Honestly speaking, restricting outsiders from entering the campus is just a temporary solution which cannot fully guarantee the security of all students. Enhancing students' self-awareness and defence is what's truly fundamental to their personal security.
The ban on visitors seems to be an attempt to protect students from exterior distractions, but in fact, it will gradually make these well-protected young people ignorant to potential threats.
Most Western universities are open to the public. I could still remember the first day of my graduate studies in the UK. I spent almost an entire day looking for the university's front gate, which I later found doesn't even exist. An embarrassing but interesting experience for a Chinese student who is used to fenced schools. No security problem has occurred there for years.
In addition, with students' dormitories and teaching buildings scattered all over the city, I can better experience the cultural environment. My affections for the city and people there is largely due to the close interactions with the local community.
Chinese universities are expected to be more international and open to the public. Admittedly, there will be a number of problems throughout the process, for instance, potential security risks, contention for resources, interruptions to classes and so forth. However, it's unwise to ban outsiders from entering campus just because of these difficulties.
Instead of directly issuing the ban, universities should put more efforts to fundamentally address the above concerns. Opening up takes time.
The author is a reporter with the Global Times. firstname.lastname@example.org