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Home  /  Inside China  /  The reform in the College Entrance Examination – Reducing students' pressure or reinforcing socioeconomic gaps?
The reform in the College Entrance Examination – Reducing students' pressure or reinforcing socioeconomic gaps? print version
New policies in the famous College Entrance Examination (gaokao 高考) were initiated (高考改革 gaokao gaige) by the Chinese Ministry of Education in 2010. While such reforms might shift some weight away from the gaokao examination and allow students to find additional channels for constructing a good future, such reforms might be favorable mainly by well-off students.
The gaokao system, the College Entrance Examination, which Chinese high-school students must succeed in, if they wish to be recruiting by a university of a high reputation, is receiving increasing criticism throughout the years, as people suggest that youngsters' prospect shouldn't depend on two examination days to such an extreme extent. With new reforms initiated in the gaokao system recently, now is a good opportunity to discuss how does the universities' recruiting system function, what is the essence of the new reforms and what is expected in future years.

The third year of high-school, 高三gaosan, is when the gaokao pressure begins to penetrate into students' minds. The 7th and 8th of June is the exam time in most subjects, and results are obtained by the end of June. The benke (本科), is the group of students with the highest grades, who can apply for good public universities (the benke are divided furthermore to four levels, corresponding to the four university grades they can apply for).

However, in China the geography and province division also influences one's admission to a university. A student's gaokao grade isn't viewed only in relation to the grades of student throughout China in that year, but also in relation to students of one's own province. For example: When a Beijing university is recruiting students from different provinces, although the students who is ranked 5th in Shandong province has probably a higher grade than the student ranked 2nd in Xinjiang province (Shandong grades are normally quite high, unlike Xinjiang), the latter has an advantage for obtaining a higher spot within his or her province. On the one hand this system has a socialist flavor, promoting students from regions which might have poor education services, while on the other it leaves high-achieving students from quality-education provinces extremely frustrated.

And in China, one shouldn't be surprised that there are corrupted ways to surpass this obstacle, utilized by the fortunate households who have connections (guanxi) and money. Such households sometimes 'arrange' a resident permit (hukou 户口) in a poor province to their child, by purchasing an apartment in such province, bribing an official, etc. This way, their child, even if he or she has taken the gaokao exam in a developed province, would be accepted to university by his or her position in the undeveloped region.

There are many other formats in which money plays a major role in determining one's high-education prospect in China, still it should be discussed who will benefit most from the gaokao gaige, the gaokao reforms. One of the products of the reform, which is already being executed, is the gaoxiao liankao (高校联考), the 'jointly-given examination of the universities'. Some universities, mainly in Beijing and Shanghai (including Qinghua and Fudan university) are working together to produce their own exams in some subjects (自主招生联考 zìzhǔ zhāoshēng lián kǎo - 'Self managed jointly given entrance exam'), which serves as a criteria when recruiting new students.

At around the time of the gaokao, students who already set their mind upon a certain unversity that conducts the liankao, can attend such institute and take the exam. The grade they achieve doesn't replace the gaokao grade but can serve as a nice bonus, giving them a cutting edge over other students (in case they achieved a high grade in the liankao).

In addition, high-quality universities are adopting other formats as 'bonuses' or factors which affect students' enrollment chances, in addition to the gaokao grade. Interviews with university teachers and accepting recommendation letters from a student's high-school principle are examples for such factors.

When analyzing the products of the gaokao reform thus far there are some evident conclusions: First of all, the gaokao grade is still the most important one, most-determining one's prospect when applying for a university spot. Second, since the new alternative channels (such as interviews, the liankao exam, etc) are initiated by east-coast institutes, are not widespread and often accept mostly well-off local students, then until now, the gaokao reform can reduce 'gaokao pressure' mostly in students of a high socioeconomic background.

It is worthwhile to wait and see how the gaokao reform spreads in further Chinese regions and whether youngsters of different economic levels would be able to enjoy it. As it seems, it is almost inevitable that access to high-quality-education in China is a domain which will be more and more controlled by the middle and high class members of the Chinese society.

Additional reading from the Thinking Chinese news section (Reading the Paper):
不要把联考当“小高考”- One Should not Regard the Liankao as a 'Small Gaokao'
自主招生值得肯定 - High Education Student Self Recruitment System is Worth Approval

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