Research Positions from Top-tier Universities Are Being Sold at High Prices in China

China’s booming education market brings both right and wrong

The private education sector has seen tremendous growth for more than a decade, driven by China’s globalization efforts, rapid economic growth, and increasing popularity of education abroad. A recent study from Deloitte suggested that the private education market in China is estimated to grow to $450 billion by 2020.  

The booming of the private education market and studying abroad offers alternatives to the Chinese gaokao, the final exam that takes place once a year, based on which students are ranked and college admission decisions are made. In a country where just one in fifty-thousand students attends the top universities, the gaokao used to be everything.

Middle-class parents are increasingly pursuing the alternatives to the gaokao. These include schooling their children overseas or selecting education providers that will prepare them for attending a college or university abroad. In the latter case, students follow programs that focus on increasing their chances of college admission, including test preparations, case competitions, and other extracurricular opportunities.

Amid the innovative ways of helping students to study abroad, some education providers seem to have gone too far. It is well-known that there are services in China that write essays on college applications and assist students in cheating the SAT exams. There is another growing area of services that cheats universities’ research system.


Paying Your Way to Become a Researcher

There is no doubt that universities in the U.S. prefer students who demonstrate solid academic background and intellectual curiosity. For top universities especially, this goes beyond the GPA and test scores. Many students choose to intern at university labs as research assistants to boost their resume. On top of having an improved resume, most of these research positions are paid.

For Chinese students, however, it is difficult to apply for university research opportunities because of their limited understanding of academic research, lack of English skills on the subject matter, and the long distance between home and the research lab.

Some education providers have found a “creative” way that gets their clients the research positions that they want. One of the examples is Artisan ( 

Artisan provides under-the-table payments to a number of junior researchers (PhD candidates, PhD students, and post-docs) from MIT, Harvard, and other top research universities. In exchange, these researchers reserve positions on their research projects to Artisan or simply create fake unpaid research positions. Most professors are unaware of this happening in their labs and offices.

On the other hand, Artisan sells these research positions at high prices to their clients, the Chinese students and their parents. A four-week research assistant position is priced between $20,000 and $30,000, while a year-long exchange scholar position is over $100,000.

Artisan falsely claims to have formed collaborations with many labs and recognized by professors across Harvard, MIT, and many others. Its marketing materials even suggest that their clients can receive school official ID cards, which allow them to access different buildings and enjoy all resources and benefits available to all students.


Can we stop these programs?

This type of service is not only illegal to the provider and the collaborated researchers, but it creates significant risks to the universities, the professors, and the participating students, especially since neither the professors nor the students know the operations behind the scene.

The universities and professors have to bear risks as unidentified, and sometimes unqualified, individuals are granted access to resources, information, and laboratories. The participating students also face substantial risks as most are not adequately supervised, guided, and insured during their time as “researchers” in the U.S.

Artisan is not the first to cheat university research systems, and it certainly won’t be the last, but there are things that universities can do to prevent such programs to become the norm. Universities should provide training to junior researchers to ensure that they can make the right choices and are fully aware of the legal consequences of the wrong ones. Furthermore, universities should solidify their check and balances when it comes to hiring.