“Lockdown” style campus management adopted by Chinese universities sparks anger from students
Feature photo: Stalls for disinfection set up at the entrance to Southwestern University of Finance and Economics Liulin Campus and students are queuing to get temperature checked and disinfected. (Source: Southwestern University of Finance and Economics/Wechat)
As they prepare to return to university campuses, students in China have been told that university life this autumn will be like “being locked up” – well at least for the foreseeable future that is.
As Chinese students prepare to flock back to their campuses in preparation for the new academic year, the measure known as the “Relative-Isolation Management” of campuses is being implemented by universities across the nation. This is in response to the guidelines announced by the Ministry of Education in a bid to prevent a spike in COVID cases when large numbers of students return to campuses in September. Although life in China seems pretty much back to normal, with fewer people seen wearing face masks in streets and huge crowds enjoying a summer carnival at the Maya Beach Water Park in the city of Wuhan, which provoked a global controversy in the middle of August.
According to the guidelines, universities are encouraged to organise the phased return of students with ones from low-risk areas returning first and those who based in regions that are classed as medium or high-risk being able to delay enrolment. Individuals who are non-students or non-staff, such as deliverymen/women and members of the public who were previously allowed to walk around and benefit from campus exercise facilities, will be barred from entering campuses. Students and staff who wish to leave the campus will need to ask for permission and discretion will only be given to individuals in special circumstances. It also sets out rules to ensure social distancing on campus such as reducing beds in student accommodation, rearranging tables and seats in dining areas to keeping at least 1.5 meters apart and introducing one-way seating.
However, the specific rules implemented by universities vary from one to the next. Strict measures have been introduced for students at the Southwestern University of Finance and Economics, based in Chengdu, Sichuan province, which is classed as low-risk. The University’s Student Code of Conduct says leaving campus during and after the first two weeks (14 days) from the returning date is strictly not allowed unless a specific reason can be provided, and it will only be approved at the discretion of a supervisor. Temperatures will also be checked three times a day in the first 14 days. Visiting people who are not roommates is forbidden while a blend of online and face-to-face teaching is likely to be continued.
More universities are responding to the central call by announcing similar “lockdown” style management of campuses as the new academic term approaches. Students have cast doubts about the meaning of “relative”, saying it is ambiguous, which is causing confusion and unfair treatment of students by staff, and treatment differs between Chinese and foreign students. The move has led to outrage from home students. Many see this as “false isolation” which restrains Chinese students only, while their foreign peers, teachers and other university staff have relatively free access to the campus.
Some call this practice “formalism” which does not serve the purpose intended while others describe the life of students under these measures as “imprisonment” and are concerned this practice may also risk student misconduct and cheating in order to obtain permission to go out.
A student is having temperature checked in front of a body temperature detector. (Source: Missures/Zhihu)
A third-year student surnamed Zhou said he was “disgusted” by the approach taken at his university. He was called back to campus in June to complete a two-month experimental course which was cancelled due to the closure of the campus. He said that every time when he went to pick up deliveries at the campus gate, he saw some people - probably university’s staff, as Zhou suggested - come in and out without being queried. While he had to collect stuff under the supervision of a security guard, “I feel like I’m a criminal,” Zhou said.
He also recalled that students were “ripped off” by the university’s grocery store as it has become the only place where students can shop for food and other daily essentials since the campus was sealed off. It took longer to get meals due to a reduced capacity in the canteen and students had to get their temperature checked first before they could queue for food.
Being the monitor of his class, Zhou was asked to collect the results of temperature checks from his course mates on daily basis. “At first, they [classmates] did check their temperature every day and record accordingly. But after a few days, people just didn’t bother to do it and started handing in the same form…they [teachers] know that it is the same everyday but [the university] insists it is continued.,” said the student.
While social media is the most common place for millennials to vent their frustration and many hope this measure will be scrapped if they continue pushing this topic on social media after a U-turn was made by Nanjing University in July after a discussion about locking down its campus topped the hot searches on Zhihu – a Chinese Quara-like question and answer website. However, this time students are disappointed by the algorithm as they discover the topic on “lifting the lockdown of universities” has failed to be featured on top searches on Weibo, a Chinese micro-blogging website, despite the topic gaining more than 47 million views and 13,000 followers.
While it is claimed these measures are intended to take advantage of technology to simplify the process of approving requests and this measure does not mean a “radical lockdown” of campuses and the ceasing of essentials such as study, daily life and work, student voices tell a different story.
This outcry has been heard loudest from final-year students who may have already been disadvantaged in terms of employment due to the pandemic and are now worrying they will be worse off as the new rules will make it difficult to participate in job interviews - which require frequent entry and exit. As a result, they could lose internships and work experience opportunities that will also mostly take place outside of campus.
Some also argue dining at restaurants outside campuses is a basic need for most students as campus canteens provide less satisfying food. While others raise concerns over the psychological impact of this management approach on students.
*Name of individual in this article is changed on request.
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