EYESHENZHEN  /   Opinion

Access to higher education a global problem

Writer: Winton Dong  | Editor: Jane Chen  | From:  | Updated: 2019-05-13

Zhao Tao, co-founder and chairman of the multi-billion-dollar Shanghai-listed Buchang Pharmaceutical, once received various honors such as being among the “top 10 talents” and “top 10 philanthropists” in China. Despite the fact that Zhao later got citizenship in Singapore, his family is still making big money in China.

In a speech he delivered years ago, Zhao preached that entrepreneurs should act responsibly by giving more consideration to human and social problems, and using the wealth they create to transform the world.

Zhao didn’t eat his promise. He has not only transformed the world with his powerful money, but also shocked the world in an unusual and infamous way. According to U.S. media reports, Zhao paid U.S. college consultant William Singer as much as US$6.5 million in a college admission scandal to help his daughter get admitted to the prestigious Stanford University.

His daughter Zhao Yusi, also called Molly, was admitted to Stanford in 2017. It is reported that her family met Singer through a Morgan Stanley money manager. To ensure Molly Zhao was admitted to Stanford, Singer targeted Stanford’s sailing program and bribed the school’s former sailing coach John Vandemoer to put Molly Zhao forward as a competitive sailor despite there being no indication that she had ever competed in the sport. After the scam was disclosed, Molly Zhao was dismissed from Stanford in March this year and Vandemoer has also pleaded guilty of conspiring to commit racketeering.

School admission cheating is not uncommon in China in the past years. However, facts have proven that even blue-chip universities in the United States are no exception to the unethical practice. Zhao Tao is not the only parent involved in a scam with Singer as the mastermind, which means that unequal or unfair access to higher education is rampant worldwide and has already turned out to be a serious global problem. According to U.S. justice department, more than 50 parents and college coaches have been charged in the massive college scandal. They falsified recommendation letters, fabricated academic and athletic credentials, used fake scores and fake photographs on important tests such as the SAT and ACT, and bribed college officials and coaches to help their children into prestigious universities such as Stanford, Yale, and the University of Southern California.

Two famous U.S. film stars, Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, were also among those charged. It is reported that Huffman agreed to pay Singer at least US$15,000 to participate in the college entrance exam cheating scheme for her oldest daughter to be admitted to Georgetown University. Loughlin agreed to pay bribes totaling US$500,000 in exchange of having her two daughters designated as recruits to the University of Southern California crew team.

We cannot totally rely on human self-discipline to solve this problem since most people are selfish when their personal or core interests are at stake. The fact that some rich families in China and the United States use a “side door” to game on the already unfair educational system also tells us that more wealth does not necessarily mean higher moral standards. However, personal wealth, no matter how much it is, should not stimulate rich persons to hold a distorted view of life and cross the bottom line of the law.

Frankly speaking, such illegal admissions practices not only undermine the fairness of college enrollment, but also tarnish the sacredness of the university as a place of higher learning. If money can buy everything while poor students with straight-A scores and wonderful performance cannot go to elite universities to further their education, what will our world become in the future?

Although everybody knows that equal access to higher education may be a mission impossible for human beings all over the world, at the very least we can do something to punish and deter those wanton wrongdoers and try to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor and make it surmountable.

(The author is the editor-in-chief of the Shenzhen Daily with a Ph.D. from the Journalism and Communication School of Wuhan University.)