Located in the northern Chinese city of Jinan, the university launched the program in 2016 to help volunteer local and international students learn “culturally and academically from each other.”
“It has to be that way because demand exceeds supply”
“In 2016, the event received 360 registrations, of which 122 international students and 238 Chinese students were enrolled,” explained a representative from the university.
“Due to the 1:1 ratio only 122 groups could be formed, leaving over 100 Chinese hopefuls without a partner”.
In November 2018, the event was again oversubscribed on the Chinese side. In order to avoid applicants being left without a partner, three Chinese students were paired with one international one.
“We don’t have many English-speaking international students in our university but everyone wants to improve their English,” posted an SDU student on Chinese microblogging website Weibo.
“It has to be that way because demand exceeds supply.”
The sign-up form – published online – also included a section where applicants could request a buddy of the opposite gender and, when asking people’s motivation for joining, gave the option “making foreign acquaintances of the opposite sex”.
The school has denied the claims regarding gender ratios, saying that there were no groups with three women and one man. One professor referred to the whole situation as a “malicious interpretation”.
According to Chinese media reports, the university has since issued an apology for the impact caused by its buddy policy.
“There has been a lot of discussion on the internet about our program,” Shandong University said in a statement.
“The school will conduct a full evaluation of the ‘student buddy’ project, conscientiously reflect, continuously improve, and endeavour to live up to the expectations of society.”
There is a widespread perception in China that international students are offered better opportunities and services – particularly in terms of accommodation – than their local counterparts.
Since last year, government officials have hinted at addressing these disparities. But with no concrete plans, there is not yet any indication as to how this will change the current system.