A major British university caught in a racism row has apologised after Chinese students protested over a warning about cheating.
The apology came after the University of Liverpool’s Student Welfare Advice and Guidance office sent an email to all international students on Monday, warning them of serious consequences for breaking exam rules. The email was written in English but contained the Chinese characters for “cheating”.
When Chinese students protested, the office added fuel to the fire by saying: “We find that our Chinese students are usually unfamiliar with the word ‘cheating’ in English, and we therefore provided this translation.”
In a letter posted online on Tuesday, university vice-chancellor Janet Beer said the warning was a mistake and “wholly inappropriate”.
“I apologise wholeheartedly for the offence it has caused,” she said, adding it “is not representative of the high regard in which the university holds its Chinese students”.
The warning prompted debate among Chinese internet users, with one Chinese graduate from the university commenting on Weibo: “I wouldn’t deny that there are Chinese students who cheat ... But to make it about the entire country… are you serious? And [sending the email] to all international students?”
But others said Chinese students overseas had been frequently criticised for cheating.
“Respect doesn’t come from nothing. You earn it,” one Weibo commenter said.
Chu Zhaohui, senior researcher at China’s National Institute of Education Sciences, said it was undeniable that Chinese students had developed a reputation for cheating and plagiarism overseas.
“I heard complaints from professors at Columbia University a few years ago, saying that they found Chinese students tended to copy from others when doing their assignments. The professors didn’t dare report them, because they themselves would be affected if their students were punished,” Chu said.
He said cheating and plagiarism were rampant among Chinese students was mainly because Chinese primary and high schools did not encourage diversity and individuality.
“Our students are usually asked to repeat standard answers for test questions. In contrast, under Western education system, students are often asked to write what they think based on their own experience,” Chu said.
“Another problem is Chinese teachers rarely tell students how bad cheating and plagiarism are, so people think it’s nothing serious.”
According to Britain-based QS World University Rankings, the University of Liverpool has 33,000 students, 8,000 of whom are from overseas. It has a joint venture with Xian Jiaotong University in Suzhou.
In August, Universities UK International said that more than 95,000 Chinese students studied at British universities in the 2016-2017 academic year, accounting for more than one-fifth of all international students and making China the top source of overseas students.