Getting into a good university is crucial to China’s high school students. They know it can shape the rest of their lives in terms of where they live, how much they earn, and even whom they marry.
So it is not surprising that families go to extreme lengths to maximise their children’s chances.
Sometimes the kids are sent to crammers, in other cases a parent gives up work to help them through the final year. Often grandparents are drafted in to cook and clean so the teenager has the fullest opportunity to study.
Some parents take more extreme measures such as hiring doubles to sit the final exam or providing wires so their children can receive outside help via a secret earphone.
Somewhere in the middle of acceptable behaviour is the practice of buying property in places where the minimum scores for university acceptance are lower.
The official name for the gaokao test is the National Higher Education Entrance Exam but it is far from uniform in application. There are huge regional variations in everything from the acceptance scores to the actual exam papers themselves.
The nation’s leading universities also set quotas for places for people from each province, which leads more enterprising parents to try to game the system.
The latest example comes from the southeastern province of Fujian which relaxed its gaokao policy in 2012 so that the children of migrant workers could sit the exam in the province where they lived, as opposed to the place they were born.
In and of itself that was not enough to attract large numbers of so-called “gaokao migrants”.
But this year the province’s minimum requirements for applying to first-tier universities fell significantly in relation to other provinces. This meant that students from Fujian didn’t need to score as well as students from nearby Hunan to apply to prestigious schools like Peking University.
Real estate agents cottoned on to this opportunity and began to advertise property on the basis of it. “Buy a house in Fujian and never worry about the gaokao,” one said. It even offered help registering the students.
According to a report in the Beijing Youth Daily, some 20,000 families have secured Fujian registration in order to have their children take the exam there.
Needless to say this sparked a wave of annoyance among the local population. “These students from other provinces are stealing quotas from the local students to enter the elite universities,” fumed one Sina Weibo user.“If these people are capable of achieving good grades they should do so in their home province rather than coming to Fujian like an intruder,” added another.
A humanities student in Fujian required 59 points less than a student from Hunan to apply to a top-flight university. Fujian also gets almost the same quota of spaces at first-tier institutions as Hunan despite having a much small population.
The lower requirements can also have a trickle-down impact through the educational sector, with schools within the province also accepting lower scores for entry. In May public concern prompted the local department of education to launch an investigation into “gaokao immigration”. So far a total of 63 students have been banned from taking the exam next year and several hundred more are having their circumstances looked at.
In the latest news: officials have now said that a child will need to attend a school for a minimum of three years in the province to take the exam there.
The upshot of that administrative decision: that pricey Fujian flat may not end up being as useful as the parents thought when they snapped it up…
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