Guangdong Province Cracks Down on 'Gaokao Migrants'

By Edoardo Donati Fogliazza, May 15, 2019

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As the yearly gaokao season approaches, China’ s southern province of Guangdong has decided to put its homegrown students first. 

In a press release distributed last week, the Higher Education Admission Office of Guangdong declared ‘gaokao migrants’ wouldn’t be allowed to take the exam in their high schools, a measure to be enforced by requiring institutions to report migrants, and severely punish those who don’t, as reported by the Global Times

But who are these ‘gaokao migrants’ anyway, and what danger do they pose to Guangdong students? First of all, the gaokao is a grueling two-day exam which ranks China’s population of college-eligible high school students (totaling more than 9 million last year) according to their score, assigning each test-taker to one of China’s higher education institutions… or to none. A student’s performance on the exam has been proven to have strong correlation to their future chance of employment and expected income — a fact that families know very well and that fuels a yearly epidemic of intensive studying, stress and apprehension as the fateful days approach. 


Students taking the gaokao exam last year. Image via The Paper

While this is considered a relatively fair and meritocratic way to match China’s large population with a limited supply of higher education institutions, college entrance exams don’t come the same way everywhere across the country. In fact, colleges have intake score bottom lines which change from province to province, accounting for population size and the health of the region’s educational system.

This means that the place a student is born in strongly influences the amount of competition they will be exposed to and the score they have to reach in order to enter the preferred institution. This is why children of families with the necessary connections and money often end up being enrolled in a school in a different province just weeks before the exams take place, in the hope of being exposed to less fearsome competition. 

READ MORE: Why Fewer Students Are Taking the Gaokao in Shanghai

Guangdong province resorted to this latest crackdown after Shenzhen Fuyuan School reportedly arranged for students from Hengshui High School in Hebei province to move to their school, which raised concerns from local students’ families. Apparently, during a practice test, some of the Shenzhen Fuyuan School students performed surprisingly well, even above the regional average. Looking into the matter, a few parents interviewed by the Global Times found that some of the top scorers had obtained awards in Hebei and returned there right after the practice test, raising suspicions of them being gaokao migrants. 

Hebei, with its large population and a well-developed, well-funded education system, is recognized around China as one of the most competitive environments to take the college examination, along with Jiangsu, home of some of the highest-ranked high schools in the country, and Henan, also a densely populated region. Furthermore, Hengshui High School in Hebei produces very successful students and is quite famous for the strict methods it uses to achieve those results. 

For students of Hengshui High School, moving to a different province would mean benefiting from a relative edge — needing a lower score to enter their college of choice. 

READ MORE: Explainer: Everything You Need to Know About the Gaokao

As experts have pointed out, the regional government is concerned with these migrants taking precious places originally destined for their own students. The reason admission thresholds vary from province to province is to allow deserving students from all around China to access higher education, not just the higher-performing ones from more developed regions. 

Additionally, papers are designed differently in certain regions, with the unique Jiangsu test particularly well known for its challenging design. Minorities and people from more underdeveloped regions are also entitled to receive a number of bonus points to be added to their final score.

Looks like the idea of making moves to get ahead should not be taken so literally.

[Cover image via Pengan.gov.cn]

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