Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

From Where I Sit

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

From Where I Sit

Article excerpt

When reform needs reform

The freedom for Chinese universities to recruit students independently of national college entrance exam results, which was considered a landmark higher education reform when it was instituted more than a decade ago, has recently come under scrutiny from both the Ministry of Education and the public. The well-intentioned changes, it seems, have brought problems in their wake.

The tip of an iceberg of negative consequences was spotted when accusations were levelled at Cai Rongsheng, director of student admissions and professor of trade economics at Renmin University in Beijing. According to the China Daily, Professor Cai is being investigated over allegations of taking bribes in the course of his recruiting duties. In November, he was detained in Shenzhen as he tried to leave for Canada using a fake passport.

Since 2003, when institutions were first allowed to recruit independently, about 90 universities have been permitted to enrol thousands of students based on talents in specific areas such as sports or arts. "Autonomous recruitment" has benefited many child prodigies whose potential might not have been identified by their performance in the gao kao, the national university entrance examination, whose rigid structure has become increasingly controversial.

But how could such a seemingly positive reform facilitate brazen wrongdoing?

In practice, autonomous recruitment does not allow prospective students to avoid the gao kao. But universities are allowed to set their own examinations for high-calibre candidates. Doing well in these exams means they may succeed in securing a place even if they fall up to 20 points shy of the university's minimum gao kao tariff.

In a nation where every year more than 9 million students take the gao kao, even one point could make all the difference. …

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