Overseas education authorities are tightening up on the review process for high school and university applicants coming from China, after concerns have been voiced over Chinese students cheating on their submissions.
"Like many other schools, one of our main jobs now is to examine the credibility of the materials submitted by students," Elton Wen, China manager for State University of New York (SUNY), said at the China Educational Expo 2013 in Beijing last week, which was attended by 80 US high schools and universities looking to promote their schools to Chinese students and parents.
Chinese students cheating on their applications to study at US schools has become a bigger issue in recent years, according to Tom Melcher, former chairman of Zinch China, an education consultancy that helps Chinese students study abroad.
Since 2011, Melcher has exposed Chinese students getting around overseas schools' high requirements by faking their academic transcripts, hiring ghostwriters for their essays and cheating on their Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) exams, which Chinese students are required to take if they want to study in an English-speaking country.
According to Wen, Chinese students often try to cheat the system by modifying their transcripts, sometimes even with the help of their high schools.
"When we get an application from a student with extremely high grades, we have to check their academic backgrounds carefully, and sometimes the student is asked to prove himself or herself by sitting through an interview or making a personal statement," Wen told the Global Times.
But Wen said that the purpose of such scrutiny is not to prevent Chinese students from studying at reputable schools abroad, but to help them make rational choices.
Those who cheat to get into universities, but are not caught until after enrollment, are in most cases forced to transfer programs or schools, or even drop out altogether without the chance to conclude their studies, he said.
TOEFL exam proctors, too, have seen added creativity from cheating Chinese students recently. Some examinees have gone through serious lengths to get higher scores, even hiring qualified lookalikes to sit their exams for them.
At Kansas State University for example, some Chinese students who have shown up for class in recent years have not matched the security photos taken of them when they supposedly took their TOEFL exams months earlier, according to Melcher.
Students who are caught cheating on their TOEFL tests are barred from retaking the exam until passing a three, six or 12-month period, depending on the severity of their case.
But despite the severe penalties, Chinese students desperate to get into a prestigious school abroad are still willing to take the risk, said a consultant surnamed Wu, who runs a website that helps Chinese students prepare for TOEFL exams.
He admitted to the Global Times that fierce competition and increasing pressure are driving more Chinese students to cheat, but said that at the heart of the problem is a greater systemic issue in China.
"China's credit system is not well-built; the cost of cheating is low, but the potential reward is enormous," said Wu.
"A bit of cheating can totally change a student's life, and even if they're punished, the penalty often has little influence on their record or future when they return to China."