China's chemistry courses are failing to meet industry needs
Hepeng Jia/Beijing, China
China’s university chemistry departments are struggling to attract students despite the rapid expansion of the country’s higher education system.
China currently offers 198 chemistry-related science degrees and 224 chemical engineering-related technology degrees but these are failing to entice students taking national college entry exams. Many undergraduates end up on chemistry courses because they have simply failed to make the grades needed to get onto their first choice of degree course.
’In the wealthy Zhejiang Province where I chair enrolment at the college, most students choose business or applied technologies, and ignore chemistry,’ says Ma Yuguo, an associate professor at Peking University’s College of Chemistry and Molecular Engineering.
’Students and their parents have a misconception about chemistry degrees. They think that chemistry experiments are risky or dirty, and that chemistry does not have good career prospects,’ Ma told Chemistry World.
In the past few years, about 85-90 per cent of chemistry graduates have found employment, according to statistics from China’s Ministry of Education. This ranks them in the middle of all science graduates - information and life science graduates have higher employment rates while fewer geology and psychology graduates find work.
’I think that students are making rational choices - they naturally want easier and higher-paid jobs,’ says a senior researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ (CAS) Institute of Chemistry, who does not wish to be named.
China’s rapidly developing chemical sector is crying out for more talented chemists. Many chemistry educators think that students should be taught more practical skills and that education should be more technology-oriented. This doesn’t match the needs of the chemical industry, which places more value on an in-depth knowledge of basic chemical theories and creative thinking than on an understanding of technologies that could be obsolete within a few years. ’China’s chemistry education is failing to supply graduates with a comprehensive chemical knowledge,’ the CAS researcher told Chemistry World.
He agrees with the recommendations of a 2005 chemistry education development report by the Chemistry Education Centre of Higher Education, which is affiliated to Peking University. The report suggests dramatically reducing teaching hours, cutting back on rote learning of theories, increasing lab time, and enhancing interactions between professors and students. It also suggests that undergraduate chemistry students should be involved in research projects as early as possible. Lead author Yao Tianyang of Nanjing University says that the recommendations cannot be implemented overnight, but that China should make every effort in the long term to cultivate creative chemistry talent.