Monday, 27 February 2012

University of Sydney - Tier 1 Gaokao Scores - What do they mean?

The University of Sydney (UoS) has adopted a strategy of accepting Chinese National University Entrance Exam, a.k.a. the Gaokao or 高考, as the criteria for entry.  As one of Australia's most prestigious universities, UoS appear to be jettisoning the requirement for Chinese students who have passed the Gaokao at "Tier 1" level to undertake a foundation year prior to enrolling on UG programmes.  

UoS' website states that this decision has been made to "make it easier for China's top students to study here".  The decision has been made to allow students with a Tier 1 Gaokao score and who satisfy the minimum English language requirements to be admitted directly to UoS programmes without the need for a foundation or pre-study programme.  

While this may, at first, seem like a good idea, this decision appears to betray a fundamental lack of understanding about the Gaokao system and what actually constitutes a "top student" in China.  Certainly, they appear to have confused Tier 1 Gaokao scores with an indication of student quality.  

Firstly, a Tier 1 score level differs from province to province.  Students in Shanghai and Beijing are at a strong advantage over students from richer coastal provinces, but which have fewer top class universities, such as Shandong, Jiangsu and Zhejiang.  In addition, provinces have a barter system to agree, in advance, how many students one province or municipality will take from another.  Additionally, while this is termed a "national" entrance exam, it is far from evenly applied.  Jiangsu (480), Zhejiang(810), Shanghai (630) (all major target markets for Chinese students) and Hainan (900) all have different total scores the standard 750 marks.  The exam content also differs from province to province.  

Tier 1 students are effectively those students who have scored a mark high enough to apply to university in China.  For example, the cut off for a student in the sciences in Shandong Province was around 570/750 last year (Science stream is more competitive than the Arts stream in Gaokao).  Should a student from Shandong score 570 and hold the requisite English language qualifications (IELTS 6.5 - 7.5 depending on course at UoS), they will be able to apply for direct entry to Year 1 of a 3yr UG programme.  

However, the actual score needed for a student from Shandong to gain admission to a top Chinese university is in 640-680 area, certainly admission to Peking or Tsinghua would require a minimum score of around 670-680.  Confused???  Welcome to the opaque world of chinese university admissions.  

Even if you look at the Sino-UK JV universities in China, XJTLU and UNNC, their entrance criteria are significantly above the Tier 1 cut-off points (provincial Tier 1 + 20-30 points as the lowest score in most cases, depending on the popularity of the UG programme, with scores ranging up to Tier 1 + 80 points).  In the case of XJTLU, it is tougher to gain access to degree programmes than it is to satisfy the minimum entrance requirements for study at the University of Liverpool, according to the UoL website, which asks for 530 at Gaokao, regardless of province or whether or not Tier 1 is satisfied (although, like UoS, studying at Liverpool UK requires IELTS 6.5 or higher, whereas XJTLU offers a 4year degree with the 1st year providing intensive English and study skills).  

We must remember here too that there are approximately 9m Gaokao candidates, with only 2m university places up for grabs.  Where UoS seem to have encountered confusion is that they believe Tier 1 is an indication of a minimum academic standard.  It is actually related to the number of places available at universities in the province (a); the number of places in other provinces that have been negotiated through barter (b). A+B = C  (total available university places).  The provincial/municipal government then takes (C), for example 200k places, and then looks at the first 200k students in terms of exam performance.  The lowest score (Student No. 200000) score is then  set as the Tier 1 score.  Also, students going to university in their home province require lower scores than if they go to another province.  Finally, depends to a great extent on the performance of the Gaokao cohort as a whole.  For example, last year Shandong's Tier 1 score was 570, about 20 points lower than in any of the previous 5 years.  

A final consideration UoS appear to have missed is the deficit in English language ability which will need to be plugged.  With a minimum of IELTS 6.5 required for entrance to UoS, students will need to study for a minimum of one year to raise their standards from Gaokao English to required standard.   Many students will cram through the summer to get IELTS 5.0, then look for foundation programmes overseas where they can study for 1yr prior to enrolling on a UG programme.  

I admire the attempt.  UoS is a world class institution and it is good to see a genuine attempt to increase admissions standards. Lancaster University, according to their website, admit students with a worryingly low 60% (450/750 in most cases) for their 2+2 programmes.  Students with this level of score would, in all likelihood, be unable to enrol for UG programs at any Chinese university (though a 3yr vocational degree may be an option).  450/750 in the Gaokao is a humiliating fail.  Unfortunately this level of entrance criteria appears to be the norm for many "world class" universities when assessing Chinese students.    

My fear in this case is that any self respecting first class student will balk at the idea of applying to a university which accepts a Tier 1 benchmark + English.  UoS could well be damaging their reputation in the eyes of the very market they are attempting to attract.  Top class students, those with Gaokao Tier 1 +10-15%, will avoid applying to universities who accept students with a flat Tier 1 score.  In China, the gulf in class between a university accepting Tier 1 and a university accepting Tier 1+10-15% is difficult to quantify.  It would not be an exaggeration to equate it with comparing a city level technical college with a world class university such as UoS or Cambridge or Columbia.  When I conducted study into Chinese students and the marketing of UK higher education for my graduate studies, the most consistent indicator of the quality of a university favoured by Chinese students was the difficulty in gaining entry.  

By accepting Tier 1, the University of Sydney may well be raising their standards, but they could well be damaging their reputation.   

3D Earth Screensaver Preview
Free 3D Earth Screensaver
Watch the Earth right on your desktop! Check it out at

Friday, 17 February 2012

The Increasing Importance of Cultural Exchange: Indications of a New Strategy to Internationalize Chinese HE?

An earlier post on this blog (The Internationalization of Chinese HE Part II - October 14th 2011) clearly expressed the opinion that, given the objectives outlined in recent national and MoE policy documents, a shift in the strategic focus for the internationalization of Chinese HE was on the cards.

The post argued that the PRC government is now following a three-pronged strategy to rapidly modernize, internationalize and improve the quality of Chinese HE. The first objective appears to be a shift away from teacher-led learning strategies to a more student-centred learning approach in HE, specfically as this is seen as the basis for creative and innovation in science and technology which the CCP view as central to the next stage of economic and social development. This will be realized through the achievement two further policy objectives: (1) the introduction of robust quality control systems for both teaching and research, and (2) the internationalization of Chinese HE, with increased numbers of overseas students helping to transform classroom and campus culture.

In an article published in the People's Daily (人民日报) on 13th Feb 2012, entitled "Hand in Hand, Towards the Future, Together we Go 携手同进,继往开来", the recent visit by Vice-President Xi Jinping to the US prompted some consideration of the importance of cultural exchange between China and the US.

Minister of Education, Yuan Guiren was quick to reference previous successes, specifically dialogue between CPC Politburo member and State Councillor Mme Liu Yandong and US Sectretary of State Hilary Clinton. Firstly, the Chinese govt has provided scholarship assistance for 10000 young Chinese to undertake study in the humanities at US universities. Secondly, for the training of primary and middle school teachers in the US in order to help facilitate the acceleration of education provision in the central and western regions of the Chinese mainland. Yet these trends still appear to be flowing in the direction of East-to-West

While in 2010/11 academic year there were 157558 Chinese students undertaking study at US HEI's, a growth rate of 23.3% over 2009/10 academic year, the imbalance is stark, with the US sending only 24000 students, most of whom are on short-term programs or language study programs, not full degree.

It is this apparent "cultural deficit" or lack of enough young Americans with the requisite cross-cultural and linguistic skills needed to effectively deal with China (in spheres such as business, education, diplomacy etc) that prompted the Obama administration to develop and launch the "100k Strong" initiative back in early 2010, with the aim of building to a figure of 100000 US students studying in China across all levels by 2015.

While China does not appear keen to restrict the numbers of students going overseas for higher education, they are certainly making noises about rebalancing these numbers. With the USA's "100k Strong" initiative and the EU's Leuven Initiative, and the fact that China still has the aura of a country unscathed by the financial turmoil that has embroiled the west, there is every reason to believe that this rebalancing will begin to accelerate.

One problem which will continue to face Chinese HE is the issue of teaching in the Chinese language. Chinese universities hoping to attract large umbers of full time students from N. America, EU, UK and Australasia will need to increase their capability for delivering programmes through English as the Medium of Instruction. If this is not done, Chinese universities will continue an effective "linguistic segregation" of their international student cohorts, which undermines the effectiveness of using international students as catalysts for transformation of classroom and campus culture.

The Sino-Foreign JV universities seem particularly well-placed to take advantage of this key tidal change in emphasis. However, it must be said that they must first wean themselves off their addiction to transferring Chinese students back to their parent campuses overseas, or at least balance exports with international students coming to study in China. Whether its Xi'an Jiaotong Liverpool University (XJTLU), Nottignham Ningbo (UNNC) or the Sino-British College (SBC), or even the potential new entrants of Duke Kunshan (DKU) or Shanghai New York (SHNYU), whoever can deliver the policy objectives regarding internationalization first is going to be flavour of the month with the MoE. Those that don't may well find ever decreasing ranges latitude and room for manoeuvre regarding the regulations under which they exist.

Send your photos by email in seconds...
Works in all emails, instant messengers, blogs, forums and social networks.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

MoE Releases 2011 Statistics on Overseas Students and Returnees

According to recent figures released by the Ministry of Education (MoE), Chinese students pursuing degrees at overseas HEI's continued to show high growth in 2011.

The MoE reports that 339700 students in total left China to pursue study overseas. Of those, 12800 were sponsored by the national government; 12100 were sponsored by their work organisations, and 314800 were self-funding students. Overall this represents a 55000 increase on 2010 figures, meaning a year-on-year growth rate of 19.32%

Overseas students returning to China increased proportionally at a greater rate in comparison to 2010 figures. Figures for returnees in 2011 increased by 38.08% (51300) over 2010 numbers, with 186200 students returning. Of those, 9300 were nation government-sponsored students; 7700 were sponsored by work organisations, and the remainder 169200 were self-funding students.

The MoE states that, since the Gaige Kaifang (Opening and Reform Period) commenced in 1978, 2245210 Chinese students have received a international university education at UG or PG levels.

At present, the MoE states that 1108800 are currently pursuing degrees overseas.

Original Link (Chinese)


Publish your photos in seconds for FREE