The Ministry of Education has told parents its efforts to ensure more children from poor backgrounds get a college education will not hurt the chances of students from more affluent parts of China.
The ministry said its changes to this year’s gaokao－the national higher education entrance exam－will not mean children from developed parts of China lose out.
The comments follow a heated discussion in China about the ramifications of changes to the gaokao. A recent directive from the ministry means there will be a redistribution of cross-provincial quotas for some provinces. Universities and colleges in some more developed provinces with rich tertiary education resources, such as Jiangsu and Hubei province, will this year have to take a larger number of students from less developed regions, such as Tibet and Xinjiang, who have passed the gaokao.
For instance, universities in Hubei province will enroll 40,000 students from less developed regions this year. Jiangsu will take 38,000. The quantities are understood to be significantly larger than previous years, but there are no hard numbers available.
The directive created a public outcry from parents in the two provinces, with some protesting in front of local education bureaus last week, claiming the redistribution will mean fewer local students will go to colleges and universities.
But the ministry said this will not happen because fewer students in the two provinces are taking the entrance exam these days, so there will be plenty of places to fill with students from poorer provinces.
In Jiangsu, 390,000 students registered to take the gaokao in 2015, with a pass rate of 89 percent. This year, 360,000 students registered for the exam. With far fewer local students taking the test, the ministry said it will be possible to take more students from poorer provinces without affecting the prospects of local students who want to attend a university.
However, not all parents bought the explanation.
One man, who declined to be named, in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, whose child is studying at a high school in the city’s Jiangning district, said the decision was totally “unacceptable”.
“The competition to gain admission to college, especially to some of the prestigious universities, was fierce enough, even before the quota was changed,” he said. “I can’t imagine what will happen if fewer places are offered to the children of Jiangsu.”
But Xiong Bingqi, vice-president of the 21st Century Education Research Institute, said parents should not be worried.
“Because the number of students taking the gaokao in provinces like Jiangsu and Hubei has been falling during the past several years, it’s normal that the education ministry would plan for fewer students to be recruited in these provinces and regions,” he said.
Xiong said the chances of students in Hubei and Jiangsu being accepted into colleges and universities will remain the same.
The ministry explained that it made the change to the gaokao to further boost equal access to higher education and narrow the gap between developed provinces and their poorer counterparts.
The university entrance exam is seen by millions of students and parents in China as one of the most important milestones in life.