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
Shanxi
Jiangxi
Henan
Hunan
Guangdong
Guangxi
Sichuan
Guizhou
Yunnan
Xizang (Tibet)
Hebei
9500
938
1211
998
279
736
1158
523
2268
1241
148
Inner Mongolia
5000
493
638
525
147
388
609
275
1194
653
78
Liaoning
5000
493
638
525
147
388
609
275
1194
653
78
Jilin
13000
1284
1657
1365
382
1008
1584
715
3104
1698
203
Heilongjiang
13000
1284
1657
1365
382
1008
1584
715
3104
1698
203
Shanghai
5000
494
637
525
147
388
609
275
1194
653
78
Jiangsu
38000
3753
4845
3989
1116
2945
4631
2090
9073
4964
594
Zhejiang
18000
1778
2295
1890
528
1395
2194
990
4298
2351
281
Fujian
5300
523
676
557
156
410
646
292
1265
692
83
Hubei
40000
3950
5100
4200
1175
3100
4875
2200
9550
5225
625
Shaanxi
5600
553
714
588
165
432
684
308
1336
732
88
Qinghai
2600
257
332
273
76
202
317
142
620
340
41
TOTALS
160000
15800
20400
16800
4700
12400
19500
8800
38200
20900
2500


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
2015
 2016 +/-
1
Gaokao Standard Admission
3,081,900
3,071,450
+10,450
2
Collaborative Programs
140,000
130,000
+10,000
3
National Special Programs
32,000
N/A
N/A
4
PRC Central Government Affiliated Universities
460,546
459,465
1,081

TOTAL UNDERGRADAUTE ADMISSION
3,714,446
3,660,915
+53,531

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
2015
2016 +/-
Reallocated
Reduction in Places for Home Province Students
Increase Outside Home Province (as % of Home Quota)
Beijing Municipality
47800
47000
+800



Tianjin Municipality
62700
62100
+600



Hebei Province
149800
147500
+2300
9500
-6.34%

Shanxi Province
97100
95700
+1400
15800

+16.27%
Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region
53400
52900
+500
5000
-9.36%

Liaoning Province
143800
142500
+1300
5000
-3.48%

Jilin Province
97400
96500
+900
13000
-13.35%

Heilongjiang Province
110700
109500
+1200
13000
-11.74%

Shanghai Municipality
68500
65500
+3000
5000
-7.30%

Jiangsu Province
211400
208900
+2500
38000
-17.98%

Zhejiang Province
136000
133800
+2200
18000
-13.24%

Anhui Province
138800
136700
+2100



Fujian Province
97200
95800
+1400
5300
-5.45%

Jiangxi Province
120700
118600
+2100
20400

+16.90%
Shandong Province
217300
212300
+5000



Henan Province
207100
203500
+3600
16800

+8.11%
Hubei Province
153800
151500
+2300
40000
-26.01%

Hunan Province
146500
144500
+2000
4700

+3.21%
Guangdong Province
234700
231300
+3400
12400

+5.28%
Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region
85800
84200
+1600
19500

+22.73%
Hainan Province
23600
23300
+300



Chongqing Municipality
86700
85500
+1200



Sichuan Province
158800
155800
+3000
8800

+5.54%
Guizhou Province
60700
59500
+1200
38200

+62.93%
Yunnan Province
82400
80600
+1800
20900

+25.36%
Xizang Autonomous Region (Tibet)
6500
6400
+100
2500

+38.46%
Shaanxi Province
134000
132100
+1900
5600
-4.18%

Gansu Province
61100
61100
0



Qinghai Province
10000
9850
+150
2600
-26%

Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region
15100
14800
+300



Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region
34500
32200
+2300



TOTAL
3253900
3201450
+52450
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.  


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