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One student’s "doomed" attempt to bribe his instructor must not be allowed to tarnish the reputations of other foreign students or the British higher education system, according to the academic involved.
Andrew Graves, professorial fellow in technology management at the University of Bath, spoke to Times Higher Education after last week's jailing of 26-year-old Yang Li for bribery and possessing an imitation firearm in a public place.
Li's attempt occurred in November last year after he failed his master's dissertation.
At a meeting at the university with Professor Graves and the course’s deputy director, Stephen Cayzer, the Chinese student was told that he could receive help in resubmitting his dissertation, appeal the mark, or accept it and withdraw from the course.
Li said there was a fourth option. Placing £5,000 (just under $7,800) in cash on the table, he told Professor Graves: "I am a businessman." When he was asked to leave, a loaded air pistol fell from his pocket.
Although such bribery attempts are thought to be extremely rare, the possibility that similar cases may go unreported "leaves the question hanging in the air for a lot of people" about how frequently tutors are offered bribes, Graves told Times Higher Education.
"This isn’t fair on the other students who work really hard, especially those who put in extra effort to do the work in a foreign language. They are just appalled at this behavior," he said.
Graves pointed to the cohort of more than 70,000 Chinese students studying in Britain without incident. While some stay and contribute to British society, others return home and become excellent ambassadors, he said.
"I’m afraid cases like this may tar them with the same brush," he added.
The case has received considerable attention in China, where the government is said to be making an effort to crack down on bribery.
Li, the son of a Chinese government official, had hoped to stay on in Britain after completing his studies. He needed to pass the master's defense to do so.
He was convicted at Bristol Crown Court last month and sentenced to 12 months in prison.
Judge Michael Longman told the student that, had it succeeded, his attempt at bribery "would have undermined the integrity of the universities in the UK and the legitimacy of degrees from universities here, the University of Bath in particular."
Li was suspended by Bath after the incident. The university said his position as a Bath student would be "resolved" through its disciplinary procedure now that criminal proceedings were over.
Graves said that the "decisive action" taken by the university demonstrated that in Britain, "all students, wherever they are from, can guarantee a high-quality degree with confidence and the utmost level of integrity."
He added: "I’ve spent a lot of time living in the U.S. and Brazil and it’s not the first time I’ve had a gun drawn on me. But this time I think he was more scared than me."