By David Emery
From Memberanda, Summer 2011
China’s modern skyscrapers and bustling city scenes can make it easy to forget that the government still exercises significant control over the Internet and related technologies – control that can affect your communications with potential students and parents.
Not long ago, a Chinese judge ruled that Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) communication technologies fell under control of the Chinese government and that unlicensed services using these technologies could be shut down. Similar shutdowns or outright blocks (Facebook) have occurred before. As of today, Skype and related services are still accessible, but there are a multitude of challenges that still must be faced, whether or not the government decides to enforce its rule regarding VOIP.
Even with these challenges, the skyrocketing numbers of students enrolling from China means that schools have the option of being more selective, often using Skype as part of the application process. When using these Internet technologies to see and speak with students, keep in mind the challenges they face when attempting to meet with you online. While many schools and businesses maintain relatively high-bandwidth Internet connections, most students you communicate with will connect from home—and the majority of families are likely connected to the Internet on the lowest service tier available. Combine these very slow connection speeds with the filtering done by China’s great firewall, and most outside of the academic and business communities find that international Skype voice and video communications degrade quickly and can be completely unusable.
For those in Beijing, there is an additional challenge: the most important government meetings take place there. When China’s version of Congress meets each year, as well as on other politically sensitive days, national holidays, or following a national tragedy such as last year’s mudslides, the government can and does reduce the number of sites accessible and occasionally limits all connections, not only to the outside world but also within China.
These challenges can have long-lasting consequences when admission is based on the interview. It means that students trying to contact you via Skype, and who are signed on, may not have their messages delivered and may not receive a response from you. When your meeting or video request to a Chinese student goes unanswered, remember that there might be a very good reason why, and that reason could be beyond the control of the student. When scheduling an interview, especially when working directly with the student, be sure to provide an alternate contact in case of Internet or other technological problems.