China
Campus conundrum
  ·  2024-01-23  ·   Source: NO.4 JANUARY 25, 2024
(LI SHIGONG)

Whether universities should open their campuses to visitors has been a topic of heated debate in recent months.

After the outbreak of COVID-19, universities across China began strictly restricting visitor entry to ensure the health of students and staff. Swipe-card entry systems installed during the pandemic are currently still at work at many universities.

In July last year, the prestigious Tsinghua and Peking universities in Beijing began allowing visitors to enter using their ID cards after making a reservation in advance. Recently, more universities announced the relaxation of their restrictions, with some scrapping reservation requirements.

But public discussion is still ongoing as to how to strike a balance between openness and safety. As part of Beijing Review's efforts to explore artificial intelligence (AI)-generated content, this week's Forum column features an answer by AI as well as an edited excerpt of an opinion piece on a Chinese news website.

AI: Whether universities should be open to visitors depends on multiple factors, including an institution's specific policies, security considerations and the purpose of visits. Here are some points to consider when evaluating the openness of universities to visitors:

Academic and research collaboration. Universities often benefit from collaborations with external partners, including researchers, industry professionals and community organizations. Allowing visitors can foster knowledge exchange, facilitate research partnerships and promote academic engagement.

Community engagement. Univer-sities can be valuable community resources, and allowing public access can help foster relationships with the local community. Openness to visitors can enable events, public lectures, exhibitions and other activities that promote engagement, knowledge dissemination and cultural exchange.

Campus tours and recruitment. Allowing visitors, particularly prospective students and their families, to tour the campus can be beneficial for student recruitment efforts. Campus tours provide opportunities to showcase facilities, academic programs and campus life, helping prospective students make informed decisions.

Safety and campus culture. Balancing openness with safety considerations is essential. Universities need to ensure the safety and security of students, faculty, staff and visitors. Implementing visitor registration processes, identification checks and visitor escorts, if necessary, can help maintain a secure campus environment.

Ultimately, universities need to find a balance between openness to visitors and maintaining a safe and secure environment conducive to academic pursuits. Each university should assess its unique circumstances, evaluate potential benefits and risks, and establish visitor policies and protocols that align with its mission, values and goals. Regular review and adaptation of these policies can help ensure an appropriate level of visitor access.

Wen Xinyi (Jschina.com.cn): Open campuses have long been the tradition. Renowned Chinese writers Shen Congwen (1902-88) and Ding Ling (1904-86) were known to regularly visit Peking University to audit classes. Many tourists also view universities as must-visit destinations, often out of reverence and aspiration.

After three years of closure to visitors due to the pandemic, universities now have the opportunity to make adjustments. Harbin Institute of Technology, headquartered in Harbin in Heilongjiang Province, fully opened its campus in August last year with unlimited quotas. Visitors are not required to make appointments and the school has released a map of its popular attractions to encourage tourists to visit during the winter holidays. While this level of openness cannot be replicated by all universities, an open attitude should be encouraged.

Obviously, the public expects more than just entry to campuses. The ultimate goal of openness lies in access to campus resources. Recently, Soochow University in Suzhou, Jiangsu Province, announced the official launch of its night school, which is open to both students and members of the general public. The number of applicants exceeded 1,000 within the first 12 hours. This measure is a deeper interpretation of the spirit of openness and inclusiveness of universities.

Nonetheless, whether the campus gate is open should depend on more than just external factors such as public opinion. It should also be determined by a university's own educational philosophy and actual situation. 

Copyedited by G.P. Wilson

Comments to yanwei@cicgamericas.com

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