This article is more than 7 years old

Making waves for academic credit

Swimming and fitness tests are on their way out of US universities, but appear to be on the way up in China.
This article is more than 7 years old

Paul Greatrix is Registrar at The University of Nottingham, author and creator of Registrarism and a Contributing Editor of Wonkhe.

A post a while back noted that there would be no more swimming tests as part of the graduation requirement at a US university. Inside Higher Ed reported the news that the University of Chicago had decided to drop its swimming, fitness tests, and PE requirements for graduation:

The University of Chicago this month became the latest institution to drop a swimming proficiency test required for graduation. But Chicago made another change, as well: it will eliminate its physical education requirements and, in doing so, cut the fitness test students could take to place out of the fitness classes.

It used to be commonplace for such physical endeavours to form part of graduation requirements at US universities but things do seem to be changing. More recently there was a further report on another university, Notre Dame, making the shift:

The university announced last week that freshmen will soon have to take two graded, one-credit courses on topics like wellness, academic strategies and spirituality instead of having to complete a year of physical education courses – for which there are a range of options – and pass a swim test.

The report also refers to a recent study on the decline in required physical education at US universities from almost all having it as a graduation requirement down to just 39%. All of this seems rather unusual in a UK context of course where, although universities are all keen to promote sporting activities to students and healthy living more broadly, I don’t think any institutions include such physical activity as any kind of formal requirement for graduation.

But now in China, the BBC reports, Tsinghua University is introducing a new 50m swimming requirement:

Students applying to one of China’s most prestigious universities have been told they must learn to swim before they graduate.

Tsinghua University, known as the Harvard of the East, has ruled that the nation’s top minds must also prove themselves in the pool.

The news made waves on Chinese social media, with some questioning the move in a country struggling with drought.

But the university said swimming was a key survival skill.

President of Tsinghua University, Qiu Yong, said the exercise was made compulsory for all students because it also improved physical fitness.

One of China’s most highly regarded institutions, Tsinghua University first made swimming a requirement in 1919, but it was later dropped due to the university’s popularity and a lack of swimming pools in Beijing.

However, under the rules announced on Monday, new students beginning in September will have to take the plunge and demonstrate that they can swim at least 50m (164ft) using any stroke.

Obviously a lack of swimming facilities might make assessment rather challenging so the university must have added a pool or two more recently. But this kind of test is inevitably going to be challenging to administer. And you have to expect that there will some attempts to cheat.

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