Reforming the College Entrance Examination: Epicenter of Tension, Change, and Resistance

The Impact and Transformation of Education Policy in China

ISBN: 978-1-78052-186-2, eISBN: 978-1-78052-187-9

ISSN: 1479-3679

Publication date: 30 December 2011


This chapter begins with an examination of the complexities, challenges, and contradictions that are presented by policies and practices associated with the College Entrance Examination (CEE) and higher education admissions during the three decades of China's reform era. It then focuses on recent reform polices as outlined in the national education 2020 Blueprint (National Educational Reform and Development Plan, 2010–2020), which deepens the debate about the role of the CEE in shaping the mission of education and distributing opportunities and “talents” affecting social mobility, university autonomy, and national development. The CEE stands at the epicenter of educational reform, criticized for hamstringing institutional autonomy and innovation; reducing schooling to a soulless competition; and unfairly advantaging urban children with greater educational opportunities. This chapter explains the staying power of the CEE and concludes that China's examination culture will intensify in the short term, as the CEE is clung to as a last bastion of meritocracy and is reinforced by the state's desire to cultivate what the 2020 Blueprint labels elite “selected innovative” and “pragmatic” talents. Content and policy analysis is used to explain CEE reform since 1978 and provide a backdrop for discussion of pedagogical, market, and compensatory reform strategies that tinker at the CEE's margins. To take into account micro-institutional processes involved in the CEE's creation, maintenance, and resistance to change, we examine stakeholders' frames of common perception through 2010 interviews with exam candidates and their parents, and faculty and administrators from four Gansu Province universities. These interviews illustrate what the CEE means to diverse families and reveal how admission policies impact students, teachers, and university faculty and administrators at both elite and non-elite higher education institutions. The slow change of CEE reform discourse and practice as China inches from examination-based selection criteria to ability-based selection criteria has begun to redefine the trajectories of recognized “elites,” whose actions are motivated by and reflect the changing needs of society and economic development. Friction and resistance on the ground, therefore, point to the ways in which the changing needs of the labor market, the policy mandates of the national agenda, the meritocratic ideal and the educational desires of China's citizenry intertwine to shape, and be shaped by, CEE policies.



Ross, H. and Wang, Y. (2011), "Reforming the College Entrance Examination: Epicenter of Tension, Change, and Resistance", Huang, T. and Wiseman, A. (Ed.) The Impact and Transformation of Education Policy in China (International Perspectives on Education and Society, Vol. 15), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 209-236.

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