China's prestigious Tsinghua University has been bombarded with criticism after it released a new set of admissions requirements for foreign applicants.
According to the university's 2017 requirements for international bachelor's degree applicants, foreign citizens under 25 years of age may apply if they have a high-school diploma and are proficient in the Chinese language－meaning the new Band 5 level of the HSK language test, which is administered worldwide.
Previously, an entrance examination was required for international undergraduate admission.
An admissions official said that the threshold has not been lowered for international students, People's Daily reported.
"After foreign applicants submit their documents, Tsinghua will organize group of experts to evaluate them, without knowing their names. Enrollment will be finalized after a strict process that includes interviews," the official said.
"In recent years, increasing numbers of international students want to study at Tsinghua. With the new policy, we have actually expanded the scope of applications, thus making the process more competitive than before."
The number of new international students enrolled for bachelor's degrees will be the same as last year, the official said.
Criticism online denounced the policy as preferential for foreign students and one that would dampen Chinese students' enthusiasm, because Tsinghua is known as one the more difficult Chinese universities to get into.
However, the official quoted by People's Daily said Chinese proficiency is one of a range of criteria for overseas applicants.
"Besides, most international students will take classes with Chinese students. Thus, we ask all foreign applicants to submit their HSK scores as the most basic requirement for applications. International admissions will not affect the enrollment of Chinese students," the official said.
Xiong Bingqi, vice-president of 21st Century Education Research Institute, said the percentage of international students is an important measure of a university's global influence, and Tsinghua cannot select foreign students in the same way it selects Chinese students.
"Currently, foreigners account for only 5.8 percent of Tsinghua students, which is lower than the 20 percent figure at universities such as Oxford and Harvard," Xiong said.