Thursday, 27 October 2016

Forthcoming Publication: "Western Higher Education in the Middle East and Asia: Politics, Economics and Pedagogy"

I'm pleased to announce a forthcoming edited volume from Lexington books.  The volume entitled "Western Higher Education in the Middle East and Asia: Politics, Economics, and Pedagogy" will be released in early 2017 by Lexington Books, an imprint of Rowman and Littlefield.

The volume is edited by Kevin Gray (Asst. Prof @ American University of Sharjah); Hassan Bashir (Assoc. Prof @ Texas A&M University in Qatar) and Stephen Keck (Professor of History @ Emirates Diplomatic Academy).  

I have contributed a chapter on Chinese-Foreign Cooperatively Run Schools (CFCRS), providing a detailed analysis of the landscape in officially approved Sino-Foreign HE collaborations approved between 1991 and 2015.  This covers 1150 agreements between Chinese and non-Chinese universities for the delivery of 1445 degree programmes at the UG level and above.  

The volume provides contributions from a number of scholars actively working in and across the global HE environment, bringing perspectives on transnational education from inside the the institutions and environments which constitute the focus of this volume.  


"Western Higher Education in Asia and the Middle East: Politics, Economics, and Pedagogy is a multidisciplinary volume that highlights the transformation of the relationship between higher education and society in the twenty-first century, and argues that the development of the global university has transformed the traditional understanding of the relationship between higher education and society. This has important implications for relations of state, as education has not only become an object of national development policy but, for many states, an important export. These changes re ect the social transformations that have given definition and identity to both new nations and established centers of education.

In the post-war period, universities in the industrialized world underwent a radical shift. The mass expansion of higher education ensured that universities were no longer centers designed to train youth to assume the leadership positions held by previous generations. Instead, universities were to become centers where job skills could be imparted and knowledge produced, re ned, and used in the newly emerging Cold War economies, and where students could develop the skills necessary for employment in a changing world. A shift of comparable magnitude is now ongoing in the nature of higher education aborad. Globalization has led to the growth of knowledge communities around the world, mirroring the rise of centers for global nance in previous decades. In the Middle East and Asia, the demands of the knowledge-based economy have led to the opening of new indigenous universities, branch campuses and partnerships with established European and North American universities. These new arrangements have contributed to the creation of what is now referred to as the global university."

“There is much talk of a neo-liberal global knowledge economy but little analysis of its impact on higher education outside dominant centres of knowledge production. This superb edited collection redresses that imbalance and enables us to understand the neo-liberal knowledge regime as not only an economic project but also an exercise in cultural hegemony.”
John Holmwood, University of Nottingham 


Mike Gow is currently Teaching Fellow in the Humanities and Social Sciences at Xi'an Jiaotong Liverpool University. Prior to his appointment at XJTLU, he was Global Postdoctoral Fellow at NYU Shanghai (2013-2015).  He received his PhD from the Centre for East Asian Studies at the University of Bristol.  

Saturday, 30 July 2016

World Class Universities with Chinese Characteristics: Who makes the list?

Towards the end of last year, Xi Jinping called for the need to establish “World Class Universities with Chinese Characteristics” (中国特色世界一流大学 zhongguo tese  shijie yiliu daxue).  This new strand to the China Dream discourse sets out a goal of establishing truly world class universities by 2020, and positions elite HE reform as part of the first of  Xi’s “two centenary goals” (两个一百年斗目标 liang ge yibainian fendou mubiao). The first of these centenary goals is to establish a prosperous nation by the 2021, the centennial of the Chinese Communist Party.  The second aims realize a vision of China as prosperous, democratic, civilized and harmonious by 2049, the centennial of the People’s Republic of China. Both of these campaigns pertain to the 4 national-level values outlined in the Core Socialist Values campaign ((社会主核心价值观 shehuizhuyi hexin jiazhiguan).

Until now, HE reform under the Xi leadership has been conspicuous in so far as it has largely followed the direction of the 2010-20 Medium to Long Term Plan developed under the administration of Xi’s predecessor, Hu Jintao. But this announcement signals the inevitable capture and deployment of HE in Xi’s superstructural reforms. The only real surprise is that HE has not been targeted sooner. This move indicates an intention to develop world class institutions which compete with the best the world has to offer, but which are also distinctly Chinese. By “Chinese”, the CCP means universities which contribute to the realization of a nation, society and citizenry which reflects the Core Socialist Values and the works to pursue and realize the national economic and social development objectives laid out in the 13th Five Year Plan.

This announcement has since been followed up, in May, with a direct call from Xi himself to foster and promote the development of “philosophy and social science with Chinese characteristics” (中国特色哲学社会科学 zhongguo tese zhexue shehuikexue). Taken alongside the call for world class universities with Chinese characteristics, this represents a significant departure from the reforms efforts of the last 20 years, which have focused on massification, knowledge transfer and restructuring of the higher education infrastructure. What it implies is that, as with other civil society institutions, the CCP demonstrate an ambivalence to civil society in the western sense: they desire the stability conferred upon societies by civil society, and the way in which values permeate the institutions of the state and civil society in western countries, yet they do not share those values and view them as distinctly “un-Chinese”.  (This, in my view, is why the Xi’s administration is profoundly different from his post-reform predecessors: Xi is focused overwhelmingly on the superstructure, perhaps due to the approaching problems foreseen in shifting the economy from export-led manufacturing to a consumer-driven economy).  

The announcement on World Class Universities with Chinese Characteristics signals an end to two projects, both of which have been decreasing in importance since around 2008: Project 211 and Project 985.  As anyone with a passing knowledge of Chinese HE must know, these projects were launched under the leadership on Jiang Zemin, with 211 aimed at establishing 100 leading universities for the 21st century, while the 39 universities also categorized as 985 universities haven risen to prominence as the research elite of Chinese HE.  Undoubtedly, it will take time for these labels to wither and die, especially outside of China. When any Sino-Foreign collaborations are discussed, the first question asked by many foreign universities is “are they 985? Are they a 211 university?”. Quite apart from the misleading nature of these categorizations (there are many superb and well-resourced universities which are not members of either 985 or 211), these labels will decline with importance until they are consigned to history. 

Instead, within China, a new classification of leading universities has been drawn up.  47 universities are divided first into either “World Class” (世界一流大学 shijie yiliu daxue) or “Internationally Renowned” (知名大学 guoji zhiming daxue).  They are then further categorized as either Comprehensive ( zonghe) or Specialized (特色 tese).  In this instance, the use of the Chinese 特色 simply refers to a specialized institution, and is not to be conflated with the 特色 as used in phrases like “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics” (中国特色社会主zhongguo tese shehuizhuyi).  All 47 universities have been designated under the umbrella term “World Class universities with Chinese Characteristics (中国特色世界一流大学 ). These universities will be pushed and supported throughout the 13th Five Year Plan period to attain the status of World Class or Internationally Renowned by 2020-21.  

The following chart and table give more details on the categories and the institutions included: 

The Major Question
The most controversial aspect of this listing? As it probably has not escaped your attention, it includes universities in Hong Kong (HKU and HKUST) and Taiwan (Taiwan University). 

The central question that arises from this is: “What exactly is a ‘World Class University with Chinese Characteristics?”.

The term clearly indicates that the very idea of the university is to undergo a kind of Sinification, as has been the case with the pragmatism embodied by “socialism with Chinese characteristics”. The common sense understanding of the university is of an institution characterized by freedom of enquiry, autonomy from the state and the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake.  It is these ideas, that will be subject to surgery, reflecting the CCP view of HE as in service of the PRC Academic freedom is often cited as a problem in Chinese universities, though this is, to a great extent, massively over-emphasized. The real issue is that of institutional autonomy. For example, universities cannot launch degrees without approval from the Ministry and provincial education authorities; the Gaokao remains an effective draft of talent, rather than a qualification valid for admission to a university through a selective recruitment process; universities cannot set their own fees, as this is handled by the provincial Pricing Bureaus, and universities must develop 5yr plans which contribute to the 5yr plans of the jurisdictions under which they operate (Ministry of Education, Province, Municipality, other Ministries, Chinese Academies).  In effect, universities serve the state and are both the subject and source of China’s industrial policy, especially with regards to science and technology, R&D and IP.

So with this dual call for Universities and Philosophy/Social Science with Chinese Characteristics, it is evident that the very idea of the university is to be subjected to a reimagination in service of the China Dream. The CCP’s use of terms such as democracy, freedom, rule of law in the Core Socialist Values is substantively different than use of those terms in, say, the US or Europe.  The same is likely to transpire for China’s universities. 

What we will likely see over the next 5 years is not an all-out war on academic freedom, as many will likely speculate. There is and will remain a generally positive environment especially in and across STEM disciplines.  Yet the call for a philosophy and social science with Chinese Characteristics does present a double-edged sword with the potential to slice away at the harmony between academia and the Party. However, I expect that we will see developments as the CCP push their ideas and material resources through institutions to create opportunities for advancement for academics willing to rise to this challenge. Certainly this will be more likely within the Mainland, but the question remains over the inclusion of HK and Taiwanese institutions: are these "World Class universities with Chinese Characteristics" purely by virtue of their geographical and cultural locations? Or does this indicate plans to absorb HK and Taiwan HE into the PRC's broader state HE reforms? 

Its going to be a very interesting 5 years. 


Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Li Peng Tragedy: Exploitation of Doctoral Students in China

The death of a Masters student in an industrial accident has brought the issue of student-supervisor relations to the fore.  Li Peng, a 25 year old 2nd year Masters student at East China University of Science and Technology (ECUST 华东理工大学) was killed in an explosion at a factory in Shanghai's Qingpu district on the 23rd May.

Sixth Tone have run an article which highlights the often exploitative tendencies of graduate supervisors in Chinese universities.

In Li's case, the accusation is that Li was prevented from working on the academic papers necessary for graduation, instead being cast into servitude, working for the firm owned by the supervisor. Li Peng's treatment is, sadly, all too common and the result of placing far too much power in the hands of academics, many of whom lack integrity. It is a system which, combined with the pressures of Chinese academia, creates and normalises industrial-scale academic misconduct.

I've spent my entire career in China, teaching at Chinese and Sino-Foreign institutions (the latter are by no means immune from this, but are often oblivious to it - in one case, I've helped a student enrolled on a UK PhD programme to submit their thesis when their Chinese supervisor, the Head of Department, was deliberately holding it up, causing extreme levels of stress to the student).
It has long been my belief that the greatest barrier to China's ambitions to create world class universities is the suffocation of academic talent in the early stages of their career, and the self-perpetuating reproduction of an exploitative hierarchical supervisor-student relationship.  Of course, there are excellent supervisors.  But China has way more than its fair share of nasty supervisors.  This is common knowledge and, more problematically, there seems little impulse to meaningfully reform this status quo.

I reproduce here a section from my PhD thesis which draws on an interview with a Researcher at a C9 university.  Corroboration of this information was found from a number of sources from grad students, all the way to university Presidents and every step of the academic ladder in between.  But my discussion with this researcher was formally recorded and permissions obtained.

While Li Peng was a graduate student at ECUST, my focus here is on the exploitation of doctoral students. However, the problems are clearly related and stem from the same unchecked power


8.1.3    Manifestations of Chinese Social Conventions in HE

My own observations in the field of Chinese HE lead me to believe that skill and ability in managing relationships according to the diktats of social conventions is substantially more important than academic ability or administrative ability, regardless of prevalent common sense opinions that academic ability is the most important factor.  Although academic ability is necessary, it is far from the case that individual academic performance is alone sufficient to bring success in the accumulation of the various forms of capital at stake in the academic field.  While performance in the gaokao, undergraduate and postgraduate examinations are necessary to enter the field of academia, the game changes substantially at the point of undertaking a PhD, and it is during this phase that the inculcation of norms of the Chinese academic sphere occurs.  What reveals itself is a system of selection on the basis of a willingness to conform to the unwritten social rules of the Chinese HE context.  It is a system which negates the potential for dissent and which demands conformity to the conventions of the hierarchies, the duties attributed to each role and the benefits commensurate with varying tiers of social status within the academic field.  
            One especially surprising admission made by President A, President B, Lecturer A, Researcher A, and which had been made clear in informal conversations and unrecorded interviews with several academics and administrative staff at various institutions, is that senior academics spend a very small proportion of their time on actual research.  This is especially the case for senior influential scholars, such as academicians (yuanshi 院士) and senior full Professors in receipt of large funding grants such as Project 863 and 973, but also for many Professors throughout the Chinese HE system without very high status levels but who are senior within their own departments and/or institutions.  However, the lack of research activity does not necessarily translate into a lack of publication activity, as the dynamics of the research team adhere to strict hierarchies and divisions of labour.  In discussion on the process of selecting young scholars for involvement in research projects administered by senior academics Researcher A offered some valuable insights into the accepted orthodoxy of Chinese academia at this level:

Sometimes on ability.  Sometimes on guanxi.  Often the attitude of the (young) scholar.  After several years of cooperation between the young scholar and the influential scholar, the young scholar can get very little.  For example, publishing a paper, the first author should be the influential scholar.  The administrative tasks of the influential scholar should be handled by the young scholar.  This is very normal in China. But, everyone knows it is not correct.  There are too many things in China now, everyone knows its not a good method.  But no one wants to change it.  In China the research team is not similar to the research team in western universities.  In this research team, the cooperation between the people in this team is not to discuss between us to write a paper.  No.  We all have our own roles.  The influential person must get resources from above, and I must write the papers. They (the influential scholars) do not do any research.
Researcher A (Interview 8)

Co-signing of papers has been highlighted as a major problem and is rife throughout Chinese academia, with Professor Shen Hong (Shen, 2000:30) describing the practice as “widespread”, yet “unacceptable”.  Researcher A offers insight into the unwritten codes of conduct in the relationship between a PhD candidate and their supervisor.  To clarify, the term young researcher is interchanged here as many PhD candidates are funded through research projects of their supervisors:

MG:  As a young researcher, to what extent do you have any direction over the research projects in which you’re involved?

RA:  You just do as you are told.  You have no choice.

MG:  What if you refused??

RA:  Refused? (laughter).  You would not be included in this research team. 

MG:  What if, for example, ‘I disagree with the way we’re doing this research’? Or you suggest some other method?

RA:  In most circumstances, there is no chance for you to discuss this.  The direction has been determined before the research project was applied for.  PhD students in China, with some supervisors, have no chance to choose their own research interests.  Their thesis should be on a subject given to them by their supervisor.  If you’re unlucky you’ll encounter this kind of supervisor.  Its very bad. 

MG:  What if you objected?

RA:  Its impossible.  If you don’t follow my directions you cannot get your degree early.  Firstly, your supervisor will agree you can get your degree, then college level, then university level.  Some supervisors are more open.  I just know many supervisors who do not allow the students to refuse or reject their decisions. 
Researcher A (Interview 8)

This hierarchical and authoritarian relationship is also divided according to duties, as discussed earlier, whereby junior research team members are responsible for research and writing of papers and administrative tasks of the senior research staff, while the senior staff are focused on securing more resources. Researcher A, referring specifically to his own school at a C9 university elaborated on this point: 

It's a very quick method for supervisors to write papers.  Senior scholars its not pressure, its their aspiration.  In Chinese universities, if I publish a top tier journal paper, I would be awarded 100 000RMB.  For one paper.  Sometimes shiwuwan (RMB150k).  There is method: cooperate with western scholars.  We just provide the data, they produce the paper.  They can be the first author, we can be the 2nd or 3rd author.  1st author: shiwan (RMB100k); 2nd author; wuwan (RMB50k); third author; liangwan (RMB20k).  It's a very big problem in China.  That's the reason Chinese scholars don’t want to cooperate.  I hate this.  It's the reason I don’t want to go a national university.  All the national universities.  All of them have the same reward system.
Research A (Interview 8)

RMB100, 000 at current exchange rates equates to roughly £10, 000.  It must be stated that further clarification confirmed that this bonus structure was particular to a business school at a C9 university, and is not necessarily the norm, but that it is common at prestigious business schools, with comparable publication bonuses being paid for publications in the top science journals.  Alarmingly, the order of authors’ names directly influences the bonus payable, with the 1st author receiving a substantially larger payout than the 2nd or 3rd author.  This information was also corroborated by a Professor at another well-regarded C9 university business school where bonuses were claimed to be even higher. 
            An impediment to change is the competitive advantage possible from having a small army of young scholars publishing.  Those senior scholars hoping to compete at the top tier of Chinese academia are compelled to maintain a productive research profile even when their time is taken up completely by efforts to secure ever more resources with which to conduct ever-larger research projects.  Yet, the substantial cash incentives available for publication in world-renowned journals can exceed a full year’s professorial salary for a single journal publication.  Even though these publications have amongst the most rigourous academic review standards (see Appendix 8 for a list of journals accepted by a prominent C9 university business school), in many cases PhD students are expected, prior to and as a condition of the completion of their studies, to publish in journals of this quality.  I had heard this from many PhD students and post-doctoral researchers and asked Researcher A to clarify the actual requirements of publication as a pre-condition of graduation:

RA: There is no quality analysis.  The only method is to look at the level of the journal.  Top Tier journals I have 3 publications.  Second tier, I have 2. 

MG: But you are still doing your PhD? 

RA: I should have 3 Chinese papers and one international paper. 

MG: If you don’t have those papers, what happens?

RA:  No PhD.  Of course, no PhD.  They have listed 30 journals, Chinese journals, you should publish in only these journals.  International journals, they also have a list.  A, B, C level. 

In Researcher A’s experience the bonuses paid for publication in journals as described above were not paid to the PhD student.  Even on these papers, published as a condition of graduating, there is a strong instance of co-signing of papers with the supervisor often placing their name first on the paper.  Researcher A, who was still finalizing their PhD at the time of the interview and had, at that time, a significant number of publications, including in journals listed in the Social Science Citation Index (SSCI) and the Chinese language equivalent, the Chinese Social Science Citation Index (CSSCI), stated that even those English language SSCI publications were not counted as they were in publications not ranked by his/her business school as of sufficient standing.  The extent to which this practice is prevalent across the Chinese HE sector is unclear, though Researcher A appeared adamant that in the elite universities, where publication stakes are high and competition is particularly severe, this practice is widespread.  It is difficult to resist the conclusion that such behaviour, if it is as widespread as I have been informed, is not only plagiarism on an industrial scale, but is a method by which research funds which must necessarily be spent on the training of young doctoral researchers is potentially and effectively laundered through a process which demands publication of papers by doctoral candidates as a condition of graduating from a doctoral programme, and for which the supervisor receives research credit and a financial reward. 

8.1.4    The Power of Social Conventions.

The practices discussed above are indicative of the strength of informal structures in controlling and directing behaviour in Chinese HE, including most importantly the reticence over challenging established practices. As has been discussed earlier, the willingness to resort to use of regulatory and legislative means to resolve issues are subsumed by the need to maintain interpersonal harmony, especially for those occupying the subordinate position in dyadic ties.  As the above example of co-signing papers shows, there exists a strong resistance to shine a light on practices that most actors recognize as being morally dubious.

Monday, 16 May 2016

Gaokao: What is going on with Gaokao Quota?

Twitter, Weibo and WeChat are ablaze with coverage of a decision announced this week. 

Its been reported, inaccurately, that cuts to provincial gaokao quotas have dramatically reduced university places for students from some provinces, with protests occurring in the two hardest hit provinces of Jiangsu and Hubei.

However, its all a litte more complicated than that. 

Anyone who’s ever tried to look at Gaokao, from any angle, will know that it is one of the most difficult systems to grasp.  While it is referred to as a “National” entrance examination, the truth is that it is a national configuration of provincial systems which contribute to a national enrolment plan.  So it is with more than a little trepidation that I write on this subject, knowing full well that the sheer complexity of the Gaokao system means I’ve likely (definitely) missed something. 

Nevertheless, with a lot of speculation flying around, certain things need to be clarified. 

It appears that what has happened is that 12 provinces have been published quotas for their provincial universities (no. of places at universities reporting to their own provincial education bureaus), with stipulations that a certain number of students, significantly more than in the past, will be transferred to universities in 10 other provinces targeted for HE development by the central government. In effect, the purpose of this policy is to increase access to HE for students from inland provinces targeted for development under the Midwest Higher Education Rejuvenation Plan 2012-2020 (中西部高等教育振兴计 2012-2020). 

Its worth pointing out that, usually, provinces negotiate amongst themselves to take students from other provinces. This year, however, planned figures have been announced which allocate university places in 12 provinces to students from 10 other provinces.  

The table below is what has caused all the commotion: it shows how many places at provincial universities across 12 provinces (left-hand column) will be reserved for students from 10 other provinces (Shanxi, Jiangxi, Henan, Hunan etc).

Province with Reduction in Quota for Local Students
No. of Students Transferred Out
Province with Increased Opportunities in Other Provinces
Xizang (Tibet)
Inner Mongolia

Before we can really understand what this means, we need to look in a bit more detail at the Gaokao system and, specifically, the number of university places available at provincial universities in each province. 

Gaokao Figures for 2016
In 2016, there are 3,714,446 places at Undergraduate level up for grabs (several excel files in Chinese relating to this year’s Gaokao recruitment can be found here on the MoE website).

This number can be further broken down, along with comparative figures for 2015 (available here in Chinese):

Admission Route
 2016 +/-
Gaokao Standard Admission
Collaborative Programs
National Special Programs
PRC Central Government Affiliated Universities


PRC Central govt dept enrolments (4) is counted separately by the Ministry of Education (MoE) in the national enrolment plan.  (1), (2) and (3) give a total of 3,253,900 which is then divided by province. 

(1) Gaokao standard admission.        普通高考本科
The overwhelming majority of students admitted to 4yr UG programs are included in this category. Further breakdown by province given below.  To clarify, these refer to places at universities which are under the jurisdiction of the provincial, municipal, or autonomous region govt. in which they are located. 

(2) Collaborative Programs               
Between 2008 and 2012, these collaborative programs were rapidly expanded by the Hu-Wen administration.  Collaborative Programs are aimed at using the resources of the best funded universities to expand access to HE for rural students and those from poorer backgrounds.  In 2008, only 35k students benefitted from such programs, but this figure reached 170k by 2012.  These figures are generally included with the Standard Gaokao admissions figures published by the MoE and are included in the further provincial breakdown below. 

Note: For more info, see Chinese only:

(3) National Special Programs           国家传项计
In 2012, at the final National People’s Congress of the Hu-Wen administration, the Midwest Higher Education Revitalization Plan 2012-2020 was launched, outlining strategies to improve access and resources for HE across poorer inland provinces.  (中西部高等教育振兴计 2012-2020).  As part of this, 185,000 places were to be created for students from rural backgrounds in all universities in target provinces. 

Both the Collaborative Programs and National Special Programs are part of a concerted effort by the CCP and PRC government to drive development towards the interior. Higher Education enrolment has been highlighted as a main pillar of this policy objective, with planning devised to ensure HE opportunities are provided to students from these inland provinces. 

(4) PRC Central Government Affiliated Universities
This figure covers all places for universities which fall under the jurisdiction of PRC Ministries and Government Departments.  The total for 2016 is 460,546 undergraduate places at these Key National Universities.  The overwhelming majority of places (340,120) are at 71 universities under the Ministry of Education and includes most C9, 985 and 211 universities.

For example, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, not under the MoE but listed separately here, has a quota of 2254 students.  The Chinese Communist Youth League (CCYL) is accorded a quota of 1080 students, as the China Youth University of Political Studies (中国青年政治学院) is under the direction of the CCYL.  In total, 22 different Ministries and government departments are awarded quota totaling 460,546 4yr undergraduate places  for students at higher education institutions under their jurisdiction. 

So a couple of points of clarification here:  (a) places at Key National Universities, including Project 211 universities (which also includes C9 Group and all 985 universities) are unaffected by the quota reallocation announced last week – by virtue of the fact their quota is allocated to the Ministries and govt departments to which they report; (b) the total number of UG places at provincially administered universities has increased on 2015. 

We now need to look at the quota given to provincial universities.  Figures below are for every province (23), municipality (4) and autonomous region (5) and show that there are no cases where places at provincial universities have fallen.  Only Gansu Province has seen a freeze in 2016, with a total increase of 52,450 places for 2016. 

The three columns on the right hand side show the number of places reallocated under the policy announcement this week, along with the % reduction in affected provinces, and the % increase for provinces benefitting from the new policy.  

Fig 1.  Provincial Gaokao Quota 2016 and 2015 for Comparison*
Province, Municipality, Autonomous Region
Undergraduate Places
2016 +/-
Reduction in Places for Home Province Students
Increase Outside Home Province (as % of Home Quota)
Beijing Municipality
Tianjin Municipality
Hebei Province
Shanxi Province
Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region
Liaoning Province
Jilin Province
Heilongjiang Province
Shanghai Municipality
Jiangsu Province
Zhejiang Province
Anhui Province
Fujian Province
Jiangxi Province
Shandong Province
Henan Province
Hubei Province
Hunan Province
Guangdong Province
Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region
Hainan Province
Chongqing Municipality
Sichuan Province
Guizhou Province
Yunnan Province
Xizang Autonomous Region (Tibet)
Shaanxi Province
Gansu Province
Qinghai Province
Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region
Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region
160k out
160k in

Source: Ministry of Education (2016; 2015)
*  - Provinces affected by the recent announcement are highlighted in RED (transferring) and BLUE (receiving).

Outcry: Why are parents and Gaokao candidates so angry?
So.  What has caused parents in cities across Jiangsu and Hubei to come out in protest.  Looking at the table above, we can see that Hubei has 153,800 places at Hubei’s provincial universities in 2016, an increase of 2300 places over 2015.  Hubei will be awarding 40000 of these places to students from the 10 inland provinces (highlighted in BLUE). 

Hubei’s provincial universities will still be recruiting an increased number of students this year (153,800), but over 1 in 4 of these admissions will be from the 10 provinces benefitting from this new policy.

If you are a Hubei student hoping to get into a provincial level university in Wuhan (or anywhere else in Hubei), it appears, looking at this policy, that the number of places available to Hubei hukou holders just dropped by 25%, and the score needed to gain entry has risen dramatically.  It's a similar story in Jiangsu, with an 18% reduction in places at Jiangsu’s provincial universities for Jiangsu hukou holders. 

A Knee-Jerk Reaction?
Another aspect which needs consideration is the total number of candidates sitting the Gaokao this year in affected provinces, in comparison with last year.  Gaokao registration has been reported for some, not all, provinces, but we can examine some available data.  

Hubei is reporting a drop in candidates on 2015 of 6947 students, with 317959 students contesting the Gaokao this year. With nearly 7000 less students than in 2015, this will soften the impact of the policy to reallocate 40000 students to other provinces.We should also acknowledge that Hubei already takes significant numbers of students from other provinces.  Usually, these numbers are negotiated between Hubei and other provinces, but this year a planned figure of 40000 has been decreed. So even with all data, its difficult to tell the true extent to which Hubei students will be disadvantaged by this policy.  

In Jiangsu, there has been a significant fall in comparison with last year.  While 38000 places will be reallocated to students from other provinces, Jiangsu has 32500 less Gaokao candidates than in 2015. This adds weight to claims reported in the Wall Street Journal, attributed to Jiangsu Department of Education Shen Jian, that due to drops in numbers of candidates, the impact of this policy in Jiangsu will be minimized.  Its a similar case in Zhejiang, with about 15000 fewer candidates and a reallocation of 18000 places to other provinces, and in Shaanxi where 5600 places have been reallocated but a drop of 16000 in total Gaokao candidates has been recorded.  

Hebei seems to be getting the worst deal: 9500 places have been reallocated to other provinces, yet Hebei has 18300 more Gaokao candidates than in 2015.  

A final factor that hasn't been considered is that several statements released by provincial bureaus have stated that this policy affects both university places and college places (3yr diploma). If this is the case, the severity of impact will be reduced significantly, as it will be spread across both 4yr UG programs and 3yr college level programs.  However, this claim has been made in response to the outcry amongst parents, with no other mention in official documents (that I can find).  

Poorer Provinces: How are they affected?
Conversely, we can look at the beneficiaries: students in the 10 provinces who will receive increased opportunities in 12 wealthier provinces. 

Guizhou, for example, receives an increase in places for Guizhou students at universities outside Guizhou which is equivalent to 62.93% (38200) of Guizhou’s entire provincial university capacity.  

Another interesting example is that of Qinghai.  Qinghai is a poor province, but with a high ethic minority population. Yet Qinghai is not receiving students, but opening up 26% (2600) places to students from other provinces.  I expect that this is part of capacity building for Xizang (Tibet): 2500 Tibetan students will benefit from this policy and it is highly likely that universities in Xining (Qinghai’s provinicial capital) will be the destination. 

Coverage in the Chinese media has really failed to answer some basic questions about this policy. Hubei Education Bureau Party Secretary Liu Chuantie has commented in an interview that the total enrolment plan for Hubei’s 7 Key National Universities will not fall; that the UG enrolment rate is not lower than last year; that the acceptance rate is not lower than last year, and that Hubei’s overall acceptance rate is not lower than last year.  While all this is likely true, it doesn’t really answer the question that most parents want answered: does this policy effectively mean that, in Hubei for example, that 38000 places will be given to students from outside Hubei, and that this will make it more difficult for Hubei’s students to gain admission to provincial universities?

HE Admission: Industry Policy
What this clearly shows, and is a central point I’ve been arguing for some time, is that HE is a centerpiece of the state’s industrial policy arsenal.  There’s a wealth of HE literature arguing that, in the aftermath of WTO accession in 2001, China would open and reform its domestic HE system, with many scholars claiming that marketization was a key feature of this process.  Yet the Chinese HE sector is rigorously planned, especially with regards to admissions. University autonomy in terms of degree provision is tightly controlled, with all degrees requiring approval by the MoE and Provincial Education Bureau prior to launch.  This feature is applied to all universities in China’s formal HE sector, including all Sino-Foreign programs, joint institutes and joint venture universities.  No university can launch a degree without first getting the required approvals, and this helps the authorities at the municipal, provincial and central government levels to calculate and guide the training of human resources across different industrial sectors in different geographic regions, and according to their specific economic development priorities.

Several articles mention that this policy of reallocating 160k places to students from 10 poorer provinces is not a mandatory policy.  Again, this is entirely possible, though I am sure that the State Council and MoE have asked for help with achieving policy goals and politely reminded the provincial education chiefs that they will remember anyone who isn’t helpful. 

Still, the truth is that the Gaokao is a maelstrom that isn’t resolved until the students get their results. Trying to predict how this will play out is a fool's game, though given the reaction in Hubei and Jiangsu, we can be sure that parent's in these provinces who feel their children's opportunities have been snatched away from them will not likely walk away quietly. There will be pressure on the authorities across China and at the MoE in Beijing to demonstrate statistically that the policy does not adversely affect students in the provinces where quota has been reallocated according to the plan to improve access fro students from poorer provinces.

With the education authorities seemingly backtracking on the rigidity of this “plan”, I’m pretty sure we won’t get any straight answers until the Gaokao has taken place in June and admission statistics are published in July.