A Chinese university has sparked controversy for a project that is being seen as proof of its brazen favoritism of male overseas students.
Shandong University was forced to apologize this week after it came under fire for allegedly providing each of its male foreign students with several female “study buddies.”
In 2016, the school instituted a “buddy system” that supposedly aims to help foreign students adapt more easily to life in China. The university rolled out the program the following year which began pairing each foreign participant with a Chinese student, according to The Paper.
The program only faced widespread backlash recently after it was revealed online that the previous one-to-one relationship had allegedly been changed to one foreign student getting paired with three Chinese volunteers. These volunteers are supposed to not only assist them with school work but also keep them company at social events such as “dance parties and hiking excursions.”
Details leaked on the internet boasted that the program reportedly allocated 141 local buddies to 47 international students last year. While the program does not specifically state that these buddies must be the opposite sex, it was found that the registration form included “making foreign friends of the opposite sex” among the potential drawing points of the 2019 version of the program.
Applicants were even required to reveal whether they prefer male or female “study partners” and then asked to elaborate on what kind of personalities they would want their ideal buddies to have.
Netizens were quick to point out that the forms appear to take inspiration from the information sheets given out by matchmaking agencies.
Based on the program turn out, the majority of the international students who participated were male while most of the Chinese “buddies” were female, Shanghaiist reports.
Critics of the program expressed that such a gender disparity showed the elevated the status of male foreign students to “an unacceptable level.”
“It’s beyond my comprehension why the school would introduce these young girls who probably have no dating experience to foreign male students as study partners,” a Weibo user commented.
Government-owned media platform People’s Daily also published an article slamming the program, reports SupChina.
“Deep in its bones, does Shandong University think foreigners are superior to Chinese people? If not, why did it publicly encourage locals to sign up as study buddies for foreign students?” the article read in Chinese. “Every year, hundreds of thousands of Chinese students leave China to study abroad. But how many of them are privileged enough to have foreign universities enact similar policies for them?”
In response to the backlash, Shandong University issued a statement on its official Weibo account on Friday, apologizing for the program’s “negative influence.” The university, however, denied reports that male foreign students were each assigned with three female Chinese companions, although it promised to conduct a comprehensive review of the program.
It should be noted that similar “buddy system” programs, aimed to facilitate language and cultural exchanges between international and domestic students, are currently set up in many schools across China and even other parts of the world. This particular case, however, had many Chinese students lamenting online that foreign students in China are usually afforded a wide range of privileges, such as lower standards in admission, luxurious dorms, and having Chinese students perform cleaning duties for them.
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