China will stop accrediting foreign diplomas and degrees obtained via online courses starting from the spring semester this year as major overseas study destinations have opened their borders, according to the Ministry of Education's Chinese Service Center for Scholarly Exchange.
Since 2020, the center has accredited the qualifications earned by Chinese students who were supposed to study in-person but were forced to study partly or fully online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The accreditation is important for the students to find jobs in China.
However, as the pandemic situation in major overseas study destinations and China changes, the center will stop the temporary measures from the new spring semester (fall semester in the Southern Hemisphere), the center said in a notice on Saturday.
The center stressed that it has never recognized purely online teaching programs.
It encourages students to return to their universities as soon as possible given the differences in teaching schedules of universities in different countries.
Students still unable to return to their universities in the new semester due to force majeure need to have written proof and submit it to the center when they want to get their qualifications accredited, it said.
Students who have chosen to study online for the new semester and are not allowed to change it by the universities can still have their diplomas recognized, the center said in a further notice issued on Sunday.
If the universities only offer online courses in the new semester, the students should contact them and return to their campus for study in the next semester, the notice said.
Students having difficulties getting visas and booking flights can take online courses temporarily while the procedures are finished, the notice said.
Those who are in their final semester of study need to confirm with their universities whether they can return to their campus, and if not, the students need to prepare written evidentiary documentation to have their qualifications recognized by the center.
Students who are studying in Ukraine and cannot return to the country in the new semester can attend courses online, and students who study in Russia and are also impacted by the Russia-Ukraine conflict and cannot return to their universities can also have their qualifications recognized, the notice added.
Xiong Bingqi, director of the 21st Century Education Research Institute, said while allowing students who cannot travel to overseas universities to have their qualifications recognized shows concern and care for the students, stopping the temporary measure safeguards educational equality.
"To seek profit, some foreign institutions have offered distance learning programs with low quality, and recognizing this kind of diploma only hurts students who studied hard overseas to get their diploma," he said.
While the barriers posed by COVID-19 for Chinese students studying overseas have been removed, there is no reason for them to continue studying online, he said.
With the number of Chinese students studying overseas increasing over the years, the appeal of overseas degrees in the domestic job market is declining, so a strict accreditation system is required to weed out students who just obtained a foreign diploma but learned little, he added.