Before the recent May Day holiday, many campus bulletin boards and web forums were awash in advertisements for class sitters.
Since attendance accounts for a significant portion of one’s grade in Chinese universities, many students who are unwilling to sit through their lectures hire a “tikezu,” or class sitter, to take their place.
Students who take the job can earn between 20 and 50 yuan per class, with some regular tikezu raking in more than 1,000 yuan per month by sitting in others’ classes.
“I’m looking for someone to take my place on Friday. Girls only. Price negotiable,” read the latest topic on a web forum for students at Shandong University of Finance and Economics on April 23.
Within five minutes, the topic received replies from several students asking about the class’s location and time. Although the class was on the school’s Yanshan campus, one poster offered to take a shuttle just to get the job.
The request was familiar to any tikezu. The applicant would only need to go and confirm attendance. There would be no request for notes nor a class pictures for proof. Payment would be sent via a WeChat hongbao.
“I haven’t been to that class in so long I can’t even remember its name,” the poster told Paper.cn in an interview. She said the class had a long-running conflict with her internship, and that she was considering hiring a long-term replacement.
“Although my internship isn’t full-time, I think my time is better spent there when I have a schedule conflict,” she said. Students taking class for others are generally safe because professors in charge of large classes can rarely remember everyone’s face. Classes such as Career Instruction and Marxist Philosophy tend to have the highest demand for tikezu.
China University Media Group surveyed 503 college students on class attendance and found more than half said they had seen classmates hiring tikezu. More than 80 percent said they had helped cover for a peer who skipped class, according to Paper.cn’s survey of students in Jinan, Shandong province.
The high demand for skipping class has inspired many to create groups for information exchange.
“University forums only account for a minority of tikezu job postings. There are many QQ and WeChat groups for students who want the latest information,” a student who would not be named said.
Tikezu groups exist for almost every university. Group announcements clearly mark the price for each class. At Shandong Jianzhu University, tikezu earn 10 yuan per class. In addition to taking classes, some people hire tikezu to attend sports meets and claim delivery parcel.
“Basically, this problem comes from the schools’ administrative system,” said Xiong Bingqi, an education scholar. Xiong said universities rely too heavily on academic outcomes when evaluating faculty performance.
“This makes the faculty focus on students’ test performance while neglecting the need to create an interesting class,” Xiong said. Since Chinese universities lacks the right to create their own majors, the curriculum at many schools is passed down through official regulations.
And ministry-level decrees rarely result in enticing courses.
“Schools are being advised to formulate their own regulations to motivate professors and get them to concentrate on education,” Xiong said. There are also recommendations to limit the size of university classes.
But it appears to be on the professors to find a way to make their students stay.
“The key to prevent class skipping is class itself,” the Shaoyang Daily wrote in an editorial. “In the past, many students would rush for a seat at the front of the room in classes taught by certain professors.”
Professors are considering new methods to reel in truant students. Jiang Honglei, a teacher at Qilu University of Technology, pooled his money with other professors to purchase a fingerprint identification machine to collect students’ biometrics. Other teachers take a picture each week to compare and see who is skipping.
But education scholars are more concerned about the collapse of honesty mechanisms among university students.
“Chinese students are told since childhood to study hard and get into a good university. But when they arrive on campus, they become lazy and forget they are there to learn,” said Gao Meiling, a writer for CNHubei.com.
A society where everything from fake romantic partners to friends is for rent may contribute to the problem, Gao said.
Wang Qian, a professor at Shandong Normal University, warned students of the risk in skipping university class.
“It should be viewed as equivalent to cheating on an exam in terms of dishonesty,” Wang said.
Wang said teachers should focus more on the content of their lessons than on tactics to force students to attend.
“For students who skip class to study on their own in the library, I can only remind them that some knowledge is better passed systematically through a class than gleaned from a book,” Wang said.