China’s notoriously difficult path to university admission is changing as the Ministry of Education has announced alterations to the national college entrance exam (gaokao). Last month, the Communist Party’s central committee decided to usher in a sweeping reform of the exam regime, but the key resolution on gaokao has ignited a heated debate among educators and parents over how far changes should go and how they should be carried out.
Admission no longer being strictly tied to the scores students get on the gaokao is among the suggestions for reform, according to Raymond Li of South China Morning Post. As an alternative, students could take any number of exams in a year and use their best scores to apply for college. In addition, universities would be given a greater say in their student selection.
The gaokao played a key role in selecting elite students for limited university places until the late 1990s as Professor Chu Zhaohui, at the National Institute of Education Sciences, testified. However, since then the country’s higher education system has undergone massive expansion, with admissions at mainland universities up from several hundred thousand in the early 1980s to nearly seven million a year.
“As a result, a university degree has lost much of its allure because it no longer guarantees a decent job,” Chu said. “This provides a window of opportunity for reform to improve quality.’’
The party’s desire for a fundamental reform of the gaokao system reflected the wishes of the public, according to Chu. However, Yin Jianli, an advertising executive, strongly disagrees — she said that one of the few remaining policies on the mainland which guaranteed bright students from underprivileged families like her a fair and equal chance of getting into college was the national college exam system. Originating from a rural town in impoverished Gansu province, Yin said she was grateful for the national university entrance exam because.
“I’m not saying gaokao isn’t without its flaws and I know how stressful the preparations were, but any changes should not come before the principle of fairness,” she said.
Yin thinks that policymakers working on reforms of the exam system should be warned by abuses of the scoring system for students who excel in extracurricular activities in recent years due to a lack of transparency. Shared by many families on the mainland, Yin’s concerns were apparently backed up by a recent case in which a senior university official in charge of student admissions at the prestigious Renmin University, Cai Rongsheng, was taken into custody for alleged corruption.