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Research on China?s National College Entrance Examination (the Gaokao)

About this report
This report aims to explain to Australian international education providers, peak bodi

es and government, how China?s National College Entrance Examination system wo rks in practice – and identifies opportunities to streamline the admission of high performing undergraduate students from China. Australian Education International commissioned Strategy Policy and Research in Education Limited, www.spre.com.hk (SPRE Limited), an Australian owned company in Hong Kong, to carry out this research in 2009. SPRE Limited allocated its Australian Director, Alan Olsen to the report. The research in China was carried out by Cathryn Hlavka, an Australian living and working in China. There was enormous support for this research initiative by the Chinese officials and the institutions visited during this research. Acknowledgments are due to officials and personnel from: Ministry of Education; Beijing Provincial Education Examination Authority; Shanghai Municipal Education Commission; Shanghai Municipal Education Examination Authority; Shanghai University, Student Admission Office; Fudan University Student Admission Office; Jiangsu Provincial Education Examination Authority; Guangdong Provincial Education Examination Authority; Middle School attached to the Southeast Normal University, Guangzhou; Guangdong University of Technology, Student Admissions Office who were all extremely generous in their explanations and willingness to provide details and open opinions on all aspects of the Gaokao, including insights on the future directions of education reform in China. The 38 university members of Universities Australia were generous in their contribution of views to the study in a series of one-on-one discussions about this research.

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Research on China?s National College Entrance Examination (the Gaokao)

Copyright notice
? Commonwealth of Australia 2009 This work is copyright. Apart from any use as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, no part may be reproduced by any process without prior written permission from the Commonwealth. Requests and inquiries concerning reproduction and rights should be addressed to the Commonwealth Copyright Administration, Attorney General?s Department, Robert Garran Offices, National Circuit, Barton ACT 2600 or posted at www.ag.gov.au/cca.

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Contents
List of acronyms ............................................................................................................................. 4 Executive summary........................................................................................................................ 5 Background .................................................................................................................................... 7 The Chinese education system .................................................................................................... 10 Chinese undergraduates globally................................................................................................. 16 Chinese undergraduates in Australia ........................................................................................... 18 A new cohort: Gaokao as gold standard ...................................................................................... 19 A new cohort: principles ............................................................................................................... 20 The Gaokao ................................................................................................................................. 25 Conclusions ................................................................................................................................. 33 Attachment 1: Project 211 Institutions .......................................................................................... 34 Attachment 2: Top 10 Universities in China 2002 to 2009 ........................................................... 38 Attachment 3: Fields of education of Chinese undergraduates .................................................... 39 References .................................................................................................................................. 40

List of Tables
Table 1: Provincial cut-off points for entry to Tier One and Two Universities ............................... 30 Table 2: Top ten universities in China 2002 to 2009 .................................................................... 38 Table 3: Chinese undergraduates in China: new enrolments 2007.............................................. 39 Table 4: Chinese undergraduates in Australia: new enrolments 2008 ......................................... 39

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List of acronyms
ACT AEI ATAR DEEWR GCSE HSC IELTS MoE NCEE NSW OECD SAT TEE TEI TOEFL UAI UK UK NARIC UNESCO US UWA WA ACT test for college admission in US (previously American College Testing Program) Australian Education International Australian Tertiary Admission Rank Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (United Kingdom) General Certificate of Secondary Education (New South Wales) Higher School Certificate International English Language Testing System Ministry of Education People?s Republic of China National College Entrance Examination New South Wales Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development SAT Reasoning Test (previously Scholastic Aptitude Test) (Western Australia) Tertiary Entrance Examinations Tertiary Education Institution Test of English as a Foreign Language (New South Wales) Universities Admission Index United Kingdom National Recognition Information Centre for the United Kingdom United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization United States The University of Western Australia Western Australia

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Executive summary
In China, the National College Entrance Examination (NCEE or Gaokao) is undertaken at the completion of secondary schooling for admission to higher education. This research on Gaokao for Australian Education International (AEI) seeks to provide an easily understandable explanation on how China?s NCEE system works in practice, and to provide recommendations to Australian universities on best practices for admission of undergraduates from China. Many undergraduate students from China study outside China, including 28,500 in Australia in 2008, 22,565 in UK in 2007/08 and 16,450 in US in 2007/08. How did these students meet the academic entry requirements for undergraduate study overseas? There tends to be a global divide, along the lines of number of years of undergraduate education in destination countries. But this divide does not explain all the differences. From a survey of the 38 university members of Universities Australia, 18 universities currently accept students from senior secondary school in China into undergraduate programs. The other 20 universities require students from senior secondary school in China to undertake a year of foundation studies prior to commencing an undergraduate program, or to complete a year of tertiary study in China. There is some evidence that this requirement, for foundation studies or a year of tertiary study in China, is having a perverse effect. Universities in Australia who require foundation studies or a year of tertiary education in China appear not to be attracting Chinese undergraduates who perform academically at the same levels as Australian undergraduates or other international undergraduates. Is it possible to attract to Australia, directly from senior secondary school in China, through Gaokao, a different cohort, a new cohort, with high entry cut-offs? Some Australian universities already do this. In a centrally planned economy, the Chinese Government regulates the number of university graduates based on China?s economic and social needs. A matrix of provincial quotas, university quotas, and subject quotas is negotiated annually between universities and national and provincial authorities. These national and provincial university recruitment plans are targeted so that the top 10% of Gaokao candidates are eligible for admission to Tier One universities and the next 20% of candidates are eligible for admission to Tier Two universities. By province, these cut-offs are in Table 1 Provincial cut-off points for entry to Tier One and Tier Two universities. Even in a centrally planned economy, actual intakes are determined in a market for places in courses demanded by students with actual Gaokao scores, subject to regional variations as well as issues of access and opportunity. But the important outcome is the targeting, across all provinces, to find the top 10% and the next 20% of candidates. From the detail in this report on Gaokao cutoffs at universities in China, and from the analysis of Gaokao cut-offs in terms of percentiles of students attempting Gaokao, universities in Australia will be able to set Gaokao cut-offs at levels which will produce students with outstanding ability. With Tier One cut-offs set to find the top 10% of Gaokao candidates, and with half the age cohort attempting Gaokao, overwhelmingly the most able half of the age population, Tier One cut-offs find the top 5% of the age population. In Australian terms, a student in the top 5% of the age

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population has a Universities Admission Index (UAI) or an Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) of 95.0. Across the 31 provinces, the Tier One cut-offs provide cut-offs equivalent to a UAI or ATAR of 95.0. Similarly, with Tier Two cut-offs set to find the next 20% of Gaokao candidates, those who, along with Tier One, make up the top 30% of Gaokao candidates, students in the top 30% of Gaokao candidates are in the top 15% of the age population. In Australian terms these students have a UAI or ATAR of 85.0. Across the 31 provinces, the Tier Two cut-offs provide cut-offs equivalent to a UAI or ATAR of 85.0. Armed with this matrix of cut-offs equivalent to UAIs or ATARs of 95.0 and 85.0, universities in Australia will be able to set Gaokao cut-offs at levels which will produce students with outstanding ability, and use those cut-offs to assist in the processing of applications from school leavers in China. For any new cohort directly from secondary school in China to university in Australia, Gaokao would need to be set as gold standard. In addition to demonstrating ability, any new cohort would need to satisfy any subject prerequisites, would need to be capable of autonomous learning and should not create any new English language problems. The direct entry process should be reconcilable with the practices of Australia?s competitors, the direct entry process would need to satisfy the principle of integrity and the new cohort should not compete with university foundation studies programs. This new cohort will not be empty. Universities in China, including Tier 1 universities, receive 120 applicants for every 100 places. Students with outstanding ability may not achieve the first preference, may miss out on a Tier 1 university and may be interested in studying overseas if the Gaokao result enables direct entry.

This new cohort also may be more diverse across fields of education than the current cohort, where 70% of undergraduates from China in Australian universities are in Business. In terms of transparency and practicality, universities can create certainty, and potentially increase the sizes of cohorts directly from senior secondary school in China, by setting Gaokao cut-offs with a lag. This report contains detail on Gaokao cutoffs in 2009. From that detail, universities transparently can set Gaokao cut-offs for entry into their universities in 2010 and 2011. Students who achieve those transparent cut-offs, from the 2009 or 2010 Gaokao, would meet the academic requirements for direct entry to undergraduate degree programs in Australia. Of course, the students would also need to meet the university?s English language requirements including at least IELTS 6.0 for a student visa to an undergraduate degree program in Australia. A student with a conditional offer, subject to Gaokao, and an IELTS result, who has submitted an application for a student visa, subject to Gaokao, might sit Gaokao in June 2009, achieve the transparent university cut-off and start studying in Australia in July 2009. These arrangements would have the effect of maintaining transparent standards and maximising sizes of cohorts of students with outstanding ability, directly from senior secondary school in China to undergraduate degree programs in Australian universities.

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Background
In China, NCEE, or Gaokao, is undertaken at the completion of secondary schooling for admission to higher education. There are 106.1 million 15 to 19 year olds in China, around 21.2 million in each age 1 cohort, 53.6% male, 46.4% female . In 2008, 10.5 million senior secondary school graduates sat for Gaokao, seeking to be accepted into one of 5.99 million places 2 available in China?s universities . before entering an undergraduate degree program. But there are many exceptions, and the UK National Recognition Information Centre for the United Kingdom (UK NARIC) concluded in September 2008 that China?s National University Entrance Examination, with minimum 60%, is equivalent to GCE Advanced Level/Scottish 8 Advanced Higher . Universities in New Zealand and Hong Kong, with three year undergraduate degrees, require senior secondary school students from China to complete a foundation program before entering an undergraduate degree program.

Chinese undergraduates globally
Around 400,000 students from China are in 3 universities outside China . Many of these students are postgraduates, including 53,000 postgraduates in US universities 4 alone in 2007/08 . Significant numbers of undergraduate students from China study outside China, including 28,500 in Australia 5 6 in 2008 , 22,565 in UK in 2007/08 and 7 16,450 in US in 2007/08 . How did these students meet the academic entry requirements for undergraduate study overseas? There tends to be a global divide, along the lines of the number of years of undergraduate education in destination countries. Universities in US and Canada, with four year undergraduate programs, accept students from senior secondary school in China. Universities in UK, with three year undergraduate programs for both ordinary and honours degrees, often require senior secondary school students from China to complete a foundation or access program

Chinese undergraduates in Australia
In Australia, where most ordinary undergraduate degree programs take three years, and all honours undergraduate degree programs take at least four years, the picture is mixed. Australia?s Country 9 Education Profile for China includes Schooling is very competitive in China. Those who graduate from senior secondary school have met fairly high standards, particularly in the area of science and mathematics, although the quality of the outcomes varies across the country. This is addressed through the National College Entrance Examination (NCEE) which is used to determine admission to higher education. Variations on the NCEE and other admission methods should be given serious consideration as they are addressing a wider range of student capabilities. From a survey of the 38 university members of Universities Australia, 18 universities currently accept students from senior secondary school in China into
8 9

1 2

United Nations Population Division 2009 People?s Daily Online 2008 3 Banks M, Olsen A and Pearce D 2007 4 Institute of International Education 2008 5 Australian Education International 2009 6 Higher Education Statistics Agency 2009 7 Institute of International Education 2008

UK NARIC 2008 Australian Education International 2007

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undergraduate programs. The other 20 universities require students from senior secondary school in China to undertake a year of foundation studies prior to commencing an undergraduate program, or to have completed a year of tertiary study in China. There is some evidence that this requirement, for foundation studies or a year of tertiary study in China, is having a perverse effect. Universities in Australia who require foundation studies or a year of tertiary education in China appear not to be attracting Chinese undergraduates who will perform academically at the same levels as Australian undergraduates or other international undergraduates. It is in this context that AEI sought to carry out research on Gaokao to ? provide an easily understandable explanation to Australian international education providers, Australian international education peak bodies and the Australian Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR), on how China?s National University Entrance Examination system works in practice ? provide recommendations to Australian universities on best practices for the admission of undergraduate students from China. The scope of the project was to ? undertake research in China on the operation of the Gaokao ? identify and assess undergraduate admission practices at a selected number of leading Chinese universities ? undertake a survey of undergraduate admission practices at Australian higher education institutions ? identify undergraduate admission practices at higher education institutions located in Australia?s chief competitor

countries (US, UK, Canada and New Zealand) ? identify any best practices that can be implemented by Australian higher education institutions. AEI commissioned Strategy Policy and Research in Education Limited, www.spre.com.hk, an Australian owned company in Hong Kong, to carry out this research in 2009.

Research in China
The in-China research component of this project, to provide an easily understandable explanation on how China?s Gaokao system works in practice, involved investigating the senior secondary education system and examination structure, and how the Gaokao is designed and implemented in key provinces. It also considered the regional variations in content, assessment and final scores, investigating examination integrity, and provided insight into Chinese university student recruitment plans. The report looks closely at cut-off points for access to Tier One and Tier Two universities, and describes how Chinese universities fill places to reach cut-offs to assist Australian institutions interpret the variations in provincial scores, and to draw their conclusions about how best to interpret the results. The research also covers the current policy environment including curriculum and examination reform, access and equity, and the relations between the Ministry of Education, the provincial education authorities and examinations boards, and the university sector, all important components to understanding the functioning of the Gaokao. China comprises 22 provinces, four municipalities (Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Chongqing), five autonomous regions, and two special administrative regions (Hong Kong and Macau). This report uses the term

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provinces to cover 31 jurisdictions, that is, excluding Hong Kong and Macau. Interviews were conducted with senior representatives of the relevant education and examination authorities in Beijing Municipality, Shanghai Municipality, Jiangsu Province and Guangdong Province. Key

meetings were held with the Ministry of Education and selected universities and schools. Interviewee responses were prompted by a bilingual questionnaire developed to focus on key areas requiring understanding and knowledge.

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The Chinese education system
Over the last decade, attendance at university in China increased from 3.4 10 million in 1998 to 21.5 million in 2008 , reflecting China?s unprecedented economic growth and its high demand for a skilled workforce. The Chinese Government is responsible for regulating the number of university graduates based on the economic and social needs of the country. China?s rapid development over the past three decades has created challenges for the Government, as it needs to address the increasing expectations of the population for greater access to education and better employment opportunities. For China?s graduating class of 2009, it is expected that 3 million will be unemployed making an 11 estimated 48 million jobseekers in China today. This is compounded by the International Monetary Fund?s (IMF) projected data that economic growth in 12 China will slow to around 7.5% in 2009 . plans according to provincial needs, and under the guidance of MoE. Universities are the third level of administration responsible for recruiting students according to the plan. For national-level universities, MoE sets the student quota in consultation with each university, while for provincial-level universities recruitment plans are developed with the provincial education authority, and approved by MoE. A complex matrix of provincial quotas, university quotas, and subject quotas is negotiated annually between universities and the respective authorities. While the university sector expresses its relative autonomy in recruitment of students, regulating quotas is ultimately a decision for MoE, with flexibility tending to be related to private colleges and foreign joint programs.

Senior secondary curriculum and examination reform
The current Gaokao is now over 30 years old and there is consensus amongst the education authorities interviewed that curriculum and examination reform is both necessary and timely. In a country of limited access to higher education, the Gaokao system allows for all students to compete on an equal basis. Each interviewee acknowledged the disparity of opportunity between provinces, but they all noted the Gaokao was the only merit-based and transparent system for university entrance workable in China. While the Gaokao score will remain a core criterion to assess a student?s ability for university entrance, broader competencies are increasingly seen as important attributes for entry to university, and curriculum reform is being piloted to develop a more relevant framework for the future. Until 2004 all provinces, with the exception of Shanghai, followed a national-level

Government policies on student plans (quotas)
Against this background, the Ministry of Education (MoE) works closely with the provincial education authorities, and the university and college sectors, to set all policy matters relating to student recruitment plans for access to higher education, that fall in line with central government priorities. MoE has overall jurisdiction for supervising and implementing plans, as well as setting the guidelines for content of the senior secondary curriculum and examination, and the Gaokao. The provincial education authorities are responsible for Gaokao student applications, conducting examinations, and developing recruitment

10 11

Ministry of Education PRC 1998 and 2008 Chan J 2009 12 International Monetary Fund 2009

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developed senior secondary curriculum and high school graduation examination (Huikao). Since then, selected provinces have been able to design their curriculum, decide their text books, and develop their provincial examinations in-line with the 13 general guidelines set by MoE . In 2007 curriculum reform was piloted in Beijing, Guangdong, Ningxia, Shandong and Hainan provinces at Senior Secondary One, and in 2010 the Gaokao in these provinces will reflect the new curriculum. The key features of the reform are in subjects and content, as well as the evaluation and testing system for students. MoE and the provincial education authorities were enthusiastic about the reforms, each commenting that it will provide greater opportunities for students in the future. In 2008 Jiangsu Province implemented its reform, and in 2009, Tianjin, Liaoning, Anhui and Fujian Provinces will commence reform based on the lessons learned from the pilot provinces. MoE expects that by 2014 curriculum reform will be fully implemented in all 31 provinces.

senior secondary school into its Gaokao score. Not all senior secondary students intend to sit the Gaokao. MoE advised that there are many reasons students and parents look at other options for post-secondary education and employment options, including those with the financial means to study abroad rather than consider the Gaokao route. In discussions with various education agents in China, many accepted Huikao as providing similar results to Gaokao. However, unlike the Gaokao, the examination and documentation for Huikao is school-administered and there is potential for the integrity of the results to be compromised where a ?marking up? of grades has little impact on the school, or effect on the provincial student recruitment plan. Education authorities noted that the Huikao provided a good overview of a student?s study competencies and scores over a twoyear or longer period, but did not demonstrate comparability of grades amongst other students in the province for university entrance, remarking that a good Gaokao result was an important factor in determining readiness for university entrance. Elsewhere in this report it is suggested that accepting Gaokao as the benchmark would render practices such as ?marking up? in Huikao irrelevant for the purposes of admission to overseas universities.

Senior high school graduation
Before students are eligible to sit the Gaokao, they must complete three years of senior secondary school and have passed the high school graduation examination (Huikao). This school-administered examination is an essential part of the education process and results gained over Senior Secondary One, Two and Three can influence a student?s application for university placement. Increasingly, provincial authorities are looking at ways of integrating results from the Huikao into a comprehensive Gaokao score. Jiangsu Province has done this as part of its curriculum and examination reform, while Shanghai includes school performance over
13

Gaokao - eligibility
According to MoE regulations on student admission to higher education institutions, students must have completed senior secondary school or an equivalent qualification, be physically healthy, obey the constitution and laws of the PRC, and hold permanent residence in the province where

Ministry of Education Curriculum Guidelines 2008 and 2009

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they will sit the Gaokao to be eligible . Those excluded from eligibility are: people who are already university undergraduate students; those who have not completed senior secondary school; and those with a criminal record, or who are in prison. In 2009, two further categories were added to the list of those ineligible to sit the Gaokao, to include: those who completed senior secondary school in that year but had sat the Gaokao previously through deception, or using fraudulent documentation; and those who engaged a ghost-writer or acted 15 as ghost-writer for the Gaokao . The most controversial of the eligibility regulations concerns the restriction that students can only sit the Gaokao in the province where they hold permanent residency (hukou) under the Chinese household registration system. This system of household registration is unequivocally enforced in Gaokao eligibility policy, and responses in all interviews confirmed that there is no change in sight. This regulation ensures that opportunities remain limited for students from disadvantaged regions, as there is limited chance of succeeding to top national-level universities given the fierce competition. This regulation motivates families to try and relocate to provinces that offer greater education access for the child – but mobility, transferring a hukou in China, remains one of the great challenges, and sometimes can involve fraudulent methods to achieve an honourable intention, also referred to as ?Gaokao migrants?. There is no restriction on the number of times a person can sit the Gaokao. In a published interview on MoE website, Mr Jiang Gang, the Vice Director of the Department of Higher Education Student Administration, notes that in 2008 between 15 and 20% of Gaokao students reviewed their high school course and undertook the
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Gaokao for a second time. The main reason cited was the student failed to gain entry to a good university and was not interested in taking a place in a post-secondary or 16 vocational institution . In Guangdong Province, interviewees assessed that in 2010 there would be fewer students taking the Gaokao a second time because it will be the first year the Gaokao will reflect the new curriculum, noting that 2009 Gaokao students would have only studied under the old system and be unprepared for the new examination.

Gaokao in Autumn and Spring
The most common Gaokao, held in June each year, is referred to as the Autumn (June) Gaokao. However, starting in 2000 a number of provinces experimented with the Spring Gaokao as a way of providing greater opportunity for students who may have missed the Autumn session, or for those who may not have been successful and wish to try their luck again. Beijing, Anhui, Tianjin, Shanghai and Inner Mongolia each introduced the Spring Gaokao, but since 2007, Shanghai remains the only province that still holds the examination. Often reported as a failed experiment because of the costs involved in managing a separate exam, and the lack of 17 enthusiasm from institutions to participate , the Spring Gaokao retains a good reputation in Shanghai and has a solid uptake of students gaining both Tier One (Shanghai University) and Tier Two (Shanghai Normal University) places each 18 year . The Shanghai Municipal Education Examinations Authority noted that the Spring Gaokao provides flexibility for students who want to start their course at different time points. Shanghai University,
16 17

Ministry of Education - Regulation for Enrolment in Higher Education Institutions 2008 15 ibid

Jiang Gang 2008 China Youth Newspaper 2007 18 Shanghai Municipal Education Examination Authority – Interview 2008

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for example, operates many of its courses on a credit-based structure around a threeterm system and recruits around 80 19 students each year through this intake .

2002 to 2009 is included as Table 2 Top 10 22 Universities in China 2002 to 2009 in Attachment 2. Above Tier One: this is a special category of institutions, including military academies, that students can be nominated to through the recommendation process, or can list these institutions as a first preference ahead of the regular Tier One institutions. Included in this group also are the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong University and City University who are able to recruit the top Gaokao students before Tier One preferences have been 23 allocated . MoE set up Project 211 in 1995. The aim was to develop about 100 leading universities to bring them up to world-class standard to train high-level professional staff who could help solve the major problems of China?s economic construction and development. The universities receive additional funding and resources. Most of the Ministry of Education universities are part of Project 211. MoE established the 985 Project in 1998 to raise China?s capacity for science and technological innovation and international competition. The aim is to establish universities of firstclass international standing through additional funding, enhanced teaching capacity, increased quality of postgraduate research, the commercialisation of science and technology research outcomes, and promoting international cooperation and 24 exchange . A current list of 211 and 985 universities is included as Attachment 1 Project 211 Institutions. Within China, Tier One institutions include all universities that are taking part in Project 211, currently 112 universities, including the 39 universities that have 985 status. Project 211 institutions and the well-funded 98522 23

University ranking system
In China there is no official ranking of universities. Universities, colleges and vocational institutions, private colleges and joint foreign programs are categorised under Tiers for the purpose of university entrance via the Gaokao. Interlocutors note however that students have a common knowledge of the best universities in China and are able to assess each university by considering the published cut-off points for entry in any particular course. In February or March each year, every provincial education authority publishes a guide, available on-line for registered Gaokao students, or in hard copy for purchase, that provides comprehensive data on every higher education institution in China and the entry requirements for each course based on the previous year?s cut-off points for 20 students from that province . Globally, China has six universities in the world?s top 200 universities, on the basis of the Times Higher Education World 21 University Rankings 2008 : Peking University at 50, Tsinghua University at 56, Fudan University at 113, University of Science and Technology of China at 141, Nanjing University at 143 and Shanghai Jiao Tong University at 144. Within China, students also refer to a number of unofficial Chinese ranking lists including one compiled annually by education commentator and academic Wu Shulian attached to the Chinese Academy of Management Sciences. As background his list of the Top 10 Universities in China
19

Shanghai University - Interview April 2009 20 Provincial Guides – Student Admissions Scores 2005-2009 21 Times Higher Education 2009

Wu Shulian - 2009 Beijing Education Examinations Authority – Interview April 2009 24 Australian Education International 2007

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designated institutions each have a special status from MoE as well as the provincial governments. These universities account for 80% of doctoral students, 66% of all graduate students, house 96% of the key laboratories and receive 70% of scientific 25 research funding . In addition, there are a limited number of other universities given Tier One status within their own provinces, but ranked as Tier Two institutions by other provinces. For example, Hebei University is a Tier One university for students applying from Hebei Province, and students must meet the Tier One cut-off for entry. However, Hebei University is a Tier Two university for students applying from other regions such as Beijing, and students therefore require a lower entry score. For those additional universities included in Tier One, their status is determined annually by the relevant provincial education authority, headed by the Vice Governor, and 26 approved by MoE . According to MoE, there is no plan to increase the number of Tier One universities that currently accept around 6% 27 of the annual student cohort . Tier Two Institutions make up the bulk of four and three-year universities and colleges across China. Tier Three institutions represent private colleges, senior vocational colleges and, in some provinces, include foreign joint programs.

entrance examinations for undergraduate students. Currently 76 universities (all Project 211 institutions) are able to recruit students through university-specific 28 examinations and interviews . Universities differ slightly in how they recruit students, including requirements for students to either sit the Gaokao or not. However, it was clear from discussions that the freedom to self-select students provided greater scope for universities to identify talent that was not obvious through the mainstream Gaokao system. At present MoE limits the number of students that can be recruited by university examination to 5% of the recruitment plan. However, for institutions that have recruited successfully during the three-year pilot phase, the intake 29 can be up to 10% . In terms of reform of the Gaokao, and the exploration of different pathways for university entrance, the interview with Fudan University in Shanghai provided a useful insight into how one of China?s top universities recruits students nationwide. While guided by MoE to ensure student representation from disadvantaged regions is included, Fudan has autonomy to determine the balance of students it recruits from regions outside Shanghai. Fudan?s interest is to attract not only the top students but to identify talent that may not present through the Gaokao system. Its self-designed examination, held in December and January each year, looks for a more comprehensive set of academic and analytical skills amongst students. Fudan holds regional examinations and interviews to offer places for students prior to the Gaokao. Students who are accepted need to reach over their Gaokao provincial cut-off for Tier One entry to take their place, and have nominated Fudan as their first preference.
28

University entrance examinations
A significant development in higher education reform is the approval by MoE for selected universities to conduct their own

25

China Education and Research Network 2008 26 Chinese Ministry of Education - Interview April 2009 27 China Education and Research Network 2008

Chinese Ministry of Education, University Self-Examinations 2008 29 Chinese Ministry of Education - Interview April 2009

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In 2008 10,000 students sat the Fudan examination of which 600 students were offered conditional places through this method. Fudan noted that of the total Gaokao student intake (3,000 for 2008) 92% had taken the Fudan examination prior 30 to the Gaokao . Shanghai University is also experimenting with alternative undergraduate entry, and in 2009 will recruit 100 Shanghai-registered students directly. These students will be selected from 25 key schools in Shanghai, each nominating four students with special skills and talents. Shanghai University emphasised that its interest is to identify excellent students with skills broader than can be demonstrated solely through the Gaokao. Students will still be required to sit the Gaokao and achieve a score above the 31 provincial cut-off for Tier One entry . Shanghai University noted that if the trial of this project is successful – and they were confident – they hoped to expand the number of students recruited in this way in the future. Other universities conducting their own examinations offer students bonus points. For example at Tsinghua University a student accepted via the university?s examination recruitment plan may be given a 20 point bonus to add to the Gaokao score. As Tsinghua is so competitive, a student would generally need to achieve a score in excess of 100 points above the provincial Tier One cut-off to be offered a place. The bonus points therefore can assist students to secure a place. Each university offers its unique incentives and from the research we gleaned this to be a highly competitive activity amongst the top institutions.

30 31

Fudan University - Interview April 2009 Shanghai University- Interview April 2009

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Chinese undergraduates globally
Universities globally have very different approaches in their admissions requirements for senior high school students from China seeking entry to undergraduate degrees. The global divide, along the lines of the number of years of undergraduate education in destination countries, does not explain all the differences. Greenwich. London Metropolitan takes directly into undergraduate programs students who have done “exceptionally well in high school in China”; Northumbria takes directly into undergraduate programs students who have senior high school results above 80% or Gaokao at 500+; Greenwich takes directly into undergraduate programs students “with very good marks in the high school diploma”. From discussions in Beijing and Shanghai in February and April 2009, some of the best senior school students from China are going directly to undergraduate programs at universities such as Cambridge, from Cambridge?s own testing and interview program in China. On the other hand, Oxford notes that Senior High School Diploma, Chinese University Entrance Examination or Gaokao would not be sufficient for candidates to make a competitive application. Oxford would recommend further study, such as UK A Levels, looking for AAA. In Scotland, students from senior secondary school in China often are admitted directly to four year undergraduate programs. At Dundee, “students with excellent results (75%+) from key schools, and those who have achieved good results in the Chinese National University entrance exams, may be admitted to degree courses”; Glasgow “will consider students who have gained high scores in their Senior High School exams for direct entry into first year”; Heriot-Watt says “National Senior High School Graduation Examination acceptable at average 70% or better”. UK NARIC, the UK?s national agency responsible for providing information, advice and expert opinion on vocational, academic and professional qualifications from over 180 countries worldwide, concluded in September 2008 that China?s National University Entrance Examination, with

US and Canada
Universities in US and Canada, with four year undergraduate programs, accept students from senior secondary school in China, often on the basis of school results rather than Gaokao because of timing concerns about Fall entry (the Gaokao, administered in June, is regarded as too late to be considered as part of a student?s application for Fall admission). Universities in US often require students also to sit the SAT Reasoning Test or ACT or an equivalent placement test. All students need to sit TOEFL or IELTS.

UK
Universities in England, with three year undergraduate programs for both ordinary and honours degrees in most fields of education, often require senior secondary school students from China to complete a foundation or access program before entering an undergraduate degree program. But there are many exceptions. From the 32 Higher Education Statistics Agency , the top ten universities in 2006/07, in terms of numbers of international undergraduates from non-EU countries, were, in order: Manchester, University of the Arts London, London Metropolitan, Nottingham, Warwick, University College London, Sunderland, Imperial College, Northumbria and

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minimum 60%, is equivalent to GCE Advanced Level/Scottish Advanced 33 Higher . NARIC also concluded that China?s Senior High School Diploma was equivalent to GCE Advanced Subsidiary (AS) Level, one level below A Levels. To remove any doubt, NARIC assessed English in both the Senior High School Diploma as not being equivalent to English at GCSE Level.

studies; Hong Kong University accepts Gaokao, but the first year of study would be conducted at a partner institution in mainland China before transferring to Hong Kong. From 2012, when Hong Kong universities move from three years to four years of undergraduate education for both ordinary and honours degrees in most fields of education in 2012, their approach to Gaokao students may change.

New Zealand
Universities in New Zealand do not accept enrolments of Chinese undergraduate students directly from high school; all require students successfully to have completed one year of tertiary study.

Hong Kong
Universities in Hong Kong currently offer three year undergraduate programs for both ordinary and honours degrees in most fields of education. Hong Kong universities require Chinese students to have one year of tertiary study at a mainland institution, or one year of foundation studies, before being accepted into an undergraduate program. Minimum Gaokao scores are the primary requirement for admission to the Chinese University of Hong Kong and City University (which both participate in a centralised admissions system), but both these institutions still require Chinese students to undertake foundation studies. For the remaining universities, the Gaokao score is used as a mechanism for selecting the highest achieving students, but is not the only factor taken into account. Hong Kong Polytechnic University requires one year of tertiary study before enrolment in Hong Kong; City University accepts the Gaokao “above the cut-off line for entrance to key mainland universities”, but the study program in Hong Kong would commence with foundation
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Chinese undergraduates in Australia
Australia was host to 28,500 undergraduate 34, students from China in 2008 a figure higher than the 22 565 Chinese undergraduates in UK universities in 35 2007/08 and the 16,450 Chinese undergraduates in US universities in 36 2007/08 . From a survey in 2009 of the 38 member universities of Universities Australia, 18 universities accept Chinese students with high school qualifications. Of these 18 universities, 14 require Gaokao, and four accept the Graduation Certificate on completion of secondary school after Senior Middle 3. Twenty universities require Chinese students to undertake a year of foundation studies prior to commencing a Bachelor degree program, or to have completed a year of tertiary study in China. How do Chinese undergraduates perform academically in Australia? Overall, international students in Australian universities perform academically just as well as Australian students. This has been the consistent finding in three studies over 12 years of students in Australian 37, 38, 39 universities . But studies of comparative academic performance that drill down to level of study and nationality generally are not in the public domain. Studies in a number of universities, not in the public domain, suggest that there are large cohorts of Chinese undergraduates in Australian universities who do not perform as well as undergraduates from other
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countries, and do not perform as well as Australian undergraduates. Universities which require foundation studies or a year of tertiary education in China appear not to be attracting to Australia Chinese undergraduates who will perform academically at the same level as other international undergraduates or Australian undergraduates. The requirement for foundation studies or a year of tertiary study in China appears to have had a perverse effect. Is it possible to attract to Australia, directly from senior secondary school in China, through Gaokao, a different cohort, a new cohort, with high entry cut-offs? Of course some Australian universities already do this. Again, there has been no consistent research across universities, and numbers directly from senior secondary school in China are small, but many universities have said in one-on-one discussions that they are pleased with the performance of these direct cohorts, and have been pleasantly surprised that the direct students do better than students from pathway programs or from schools in Australia.

Australian Education International 2009 Higher Education Statistics Agency 2009 36 Institute of International Education 2008 37 Dobson I, Sharma R and Calderon A 1998 38 Olsen A, Burgess Z and Sharma R 2006 39 Olsen, A. 2008

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A new cohort: Gaokao as gold standard
If Australian universities more broadly do seek to attract such a new cohort, directly from senior secondary school in China, it is Gaokao that would need to be set as the ideal measure, the gold standard. As described by OECD, handfuls of students are admitted to universities in China without the need to sit Gaokao In some cases, exceptionally gifted students can be directly admitted to TEIs [tertiary education institutions] without sitting the Gaokao. A range of positive discrimination measures target students with special needs and ethnic minorities from rural areas while special programs ensure adequate enrolment in key disciplines deemed necessary for national interests. In addition to the national system, 25 pilot TEIs (including Fudan University in Shanghai and Tsinghua in Beijing which were visited as part of this Review) are experimenting with modifications to the general admission system, through a process of university administered general aptitude tests and interviews for a selected 5% of their applicants before the mandatory Gaokao. Effectively, this means that they admit students from the top 1% of the top 20% of the cohort, thus ensuring the academic excellence of their 40 future graduates . Davey et al also found exceptions to Gaokao Although entry into Chinese universities is generally determined by the entrance exam, there are exceptions. It is possible for students to be recommended to universities, although the number of students entering through this route, and universities that consider them, is very small. In 2001, for example, only 3,408 students entered universities based on recommendation, whereas 4,535,000 entered via the entrance exam. Criteria for recommendation vary from year to year but usually include outstanding students in each region, recommendations from high schools affiliated with universities, awards and certifications from activities such as national school competitions, and children of police officers who are 41 recommended to police colleges . These exceptions are small in numbers. In discussions with student recruitment agents in Beijing in February and April 2009, there were suggestions that students planning to go to universities overseas may be helped along with some generous marking in some senior secondary schools. Accepting Gaokao as the benchmark would render such practices irrelevant for the purposes of admission to overseas universities. For any new cohort directly from secondary school in China to university in Australia, Gaokao would need to be set as the benchmark.

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OECD 2009

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A new cohort: principles
If Australian universities, more broadly, sought to attract a new cohort of Chinese undergraduates directly into undergraduate programs from senior secondary schools in China, that new cohort would need to satisfy eight principles. 1. 2. 3. 4. The new cohort would need to demonstrate ability. The new cohort would need to satisfy any subject prerequisites. The new cohort would need to be capable of autonomous learning. The new cohort would need to demonstrate an adequate level of English language proficiency. The direct entry process should be reconcilable with the practices of Australia?s competitors. The direct entry process would need to satisfy the principle of integrity. The new cohort would not compete with university foundation studies programs. The new cohort should not be empty. Specifically, a UAI indicates the position of a student relative to their Year 10 cohort. That is, a UAI of 80.00 indicates that students with that UAI have performed well enough in the HSC [Higher School Certificate] to place them 20% from the top of their Year 10 cohort, had all the Year 10 students completed Year 12 and been eligible for a UAI. From 2009, the UAI is changing to the ATAR. The ATAR will indicate a student?s position in relation to the Year 7 students they began high school with. These changes have been introduced to achieve national consistency in the name and 43 reporting of selection ranks . A UAI (or ATAR) of 95.0 means that the student is in the top 5% of the age cohort. Simply, a student in the top 10% of Gaokao is in the top 5% of the age cohort and would have a UAI approximately equivalent to 95.0. A student in the top 15% of Gaokao is in the top 7.5% of the age cohort and would have a UAI approximately equivalent to 92.5. From the detail in this report on Gaokao cutoffs at universities in China, universities in Australia will be able to set Gaokao cut-offs at levels which will produce students with outstanding ability.

5.

6. 7.

8.

Ability
A new cohort of Chinese undergraduates directly from senior secondary schools in China would need to demonstrate ability. High Gaokao cut-offs will produce students with outstanding ability. About half an age cohort (10.5 million of 21.2 million in 2008) sits Gaokao. So a student who is in the top 10% of Gaokao will be in the top 5% of the age cohort. In New South Wales
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Subject prerequisites
A new cohort of Chinese undergraduates directly from senior secondary schools in China would need to satisfy subject prerequisites. Where universities have subject prerequisites, will Gaokao results satisfy those subject prerequisites?

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Universities Admissions Centre NSW and ACT 2009a

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Universities Admissions Centre NSW and ACT 2009b

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UK NARIC considers Gaokao comparable to UK A Levels, but makes an explicit exception that Gaokao English is not equivalent to English at GCSE Level. Davey et al compared a Gaokao mathematics paper with the British equivalent. It is instructive to ask if the intellectual demands of the Chinese exam differ from university entrance exams in other countries. In order to gain an insight we compared a recent mathematics paper from the Chinese exam with the British equivalent (A-level). We found that the level of the Chinese paper, which is compulsory for all students regardless of the subject they wish to study at university, is between A-level and further maths A-level. It consisted of pure maths (that is, no mechanics or statistics), and was dominated by geometry, trigonometry and conics, and there was a notable lack of calculus. Therefore, the Chinese paper seems to be equivalent to entry into a good British university to read mathematics but higher than the British requirement (GCSE) to support the study of another subject. In work which is not in the public domain, The University of Western Australian (UWA) looked at whether Gaokao Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry satisfy subject requisites in lieu of the Western Australian Tertiary Entrance Examinations (TEE) subject equivalents. Following assessment of NCEE examination papers by UWA subject experts, UWA concluded that they are sufficient to satisfy UWA prerequisites, with a minimum pass mark of 100 (out of 150). NCEE Mathematics satisfies TEE Applicable Mathematics and Calculus prerequisites, NCEE Chemistry satisfies TEE Chemistry prerequisite and NCEE Physics satisfies TEE Physics.
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To remove any doubt, UWA made it clear that the NCEE English subject is not sufficient to satisfy its English language requirement. It will be for subject experts in each university to carry out assessments of whether Gaokao subjects satisfy prerequisites, including the issue of calculus in NCEE Mathematics. But there is every indication that this task can be done, and that some key subject prerequisites can be satisfied by Gaokao subjects.

Autonomous learning
A new cohort of Chinese undergraduates directly from senior secondary schools in China would need to be capable of autonomous learning. In one-on-one discussions, universities in Australia suggested that “skills relating to problem solving, creativity etc were not sufficiently developed through high school and Gaokao to offer direct entry to the university” and that there was a concern about “the ability of students to cope with the Australian autonomous learning environment”. Davey et al reported that ?Chinese educators have also criticised the style of exam questions because they test subject knowledge and theory rather than the ability to solve problems or carry out practical 46 tasks? . In one-on-one discussions with universities in Australia, there was a suggestion that what might be needed is “a snappy, intensive pre-course program rather than a drawn-out Foundation program”. One university recommends “a five week Introductory Academic Program for students from China who have already satisfied the university?s English language requirement”. Other universities, in one-on-one discussions, reported that they had been

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UK NARIC 2008 Davey G, De Lian C and Higgins L 2007

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pleasantly surprised that their limited numbers of students directly from senior secondary school in China, who had met high Gaokao cut-offs, and who had demonstrated minimum English language capability equivalent to IELTS 6.0, had done better than students from pathway programs or from schools in Australia. In an ideal higher education system, all commencing undergraduates might begin their programs with ?a snappy, intensive pre-course program? or ?a five week Introductory Academic Program?. It will be for universities in Australia to decide whether undergraduate students directly from senior secondary school in China require a preparation program. This decision should not be influenced by the current problem that universities in Australia who require foundation studies or a year of tertiary education in China appear not to be attracting Chinese undergraduates who will perform academically at the same levels as Australian undergraduates or other international undergraduates. Under current entry requirements, mid-year entry to Australian universities is popular among Chinese students – 39% of undergraduate commencements from China in Australian universities in 2008 were in 47 second semester . For students completing Gaokao in June and moving immediately to midyear entry into an Australian undergraduate degree, there would be no time for a preparation program.

Under Australia?s student visa regime , students from China can enter secondary school in Australia with IELTS 5.0, or IELTS 4.0 to do a preliminary English course before the main secondary school course. It is then presumed that the student will have reached at least IELTS 6.0 at the completion of secondary school, at the time of application to enter university as an undergraduate. Students from China can enter foundation studies in Australia with IELTS 5.5, or IELTS 4.5 to do a preliminary English course before the main foundation studies course. It is then presumed that the student will have reached at least IELTS 6.0 at the completion of the foundation studies course, at the time of application to enter university as an undergraduate. With students directly from China, there is no presumption. Students directly from senior secondary schools in China entering undergraduate degree programs in Australia require minimum IELTS 6.0 to obtain a student visa, and universities may impose higher English language requirements. There will be fewer English language problems in this new cohort of Chinese undergraduates directly from senior secondary schools in China, due to the higher IELTS requirements for direct entry.

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Australia’s competitors
The direct entry process for a new cohort of Chinese undergraduates directly from senior secondary schools in China should be reconcilable with the practices of Australia’s competitors. In taking students directly from senior secondary school in China into undergraduate courses, Australia would not be out of step with US and Canada, where

English language
A new cohort of Chinese undergraduates directly from senior secondary schools in China would need to demonstrate an adequate level of English language proficiency.

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Australian Education International 2009

Department of Immigration and Citizenship 2009

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universities admit students from senior secondary schools in China directly into four year undergraduate degree programs. Australia might be out of step with some universities in UK who, like their Australian counterparts, currently require a year of foundation studies or a year of tertiary education in China. But, as in Australia, many UK universities already are taking outstanding students directly from senior secondary schools. Critically, UK NARIC has concluded in September 2008 that China?s National University Entrance Examination, with minimum 60%, is equivalent to GCE Advanced Level/Scottish Advanced Higher. Australia might be out of step with New Zealand, or New Zealand might follow the lead of Australia and look at whether its current requirement for students successfully to have completed one year of tertiary study is delivering to New Zealand the quality of Chinese undergraduates that New Zealand should be attracting. Australia would be out of step with universities in Hong Kong in the short term, a situation that may change when Hong Kong moves to four years of undergraduate education for both ordinary and honours degrees in most fields of education in 2012. Of course, the very best undergraduate students from China in Australian universities may already be undertaking four year honours degrees.

university places leaves little scope for students to tamper with their individual results domestically. The research raised this issue with a number of the examination authorities for their views on the integrity of Gaokao results and each confirmed that once the score had been allocated it was stored in the provincial education examination authority?s electronic system and students are provided with a formal, sealed transcript. While it was not a task the individual authorities would want to undertake on a large scale, it is possible, in Guangzhou for example, for the authority to issue a translated document verifying a student?s Gaokao result. They did note also that the standard procedure for the translation and notarisation of documents in China may not demonstrate the bona fides of the actual result – only that the document is what it says it is. Further investigation would be required to determine the most appropriate solution to ensure the Gaokao result was real.

Different cohort
A new cohort of Chinese undergraduates directly from senior secondary schools in China would need to be a different cohort which would not compete with university foundation studies programs. The new cohort would be different. The new cohort would be students who are unlikely to be attracted to a foundation studies program, students with high Gaokao results who would be considering a range of university options in China and in US, Canada, UK and Australia. By definition, there would be no competition for these students between universities and their foundations studies programs or partners.

Integrity
The direct entry process for a new cohort of Chinese undergraduates directly from senior secondary schools in China would need to satisfy the principle of integrity. Despite the incidents each year of students in China finding innovative ways to cheat during the Gaokao, or in engaging ghost writers to undertake the test, the system of registration, computerised marking and online results and computerised allocation of

Not an empty cohort
Even with these filtering principles, the cohort of eligible students in this group will be substantial.

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From the detail in this report on Gaokao cutoffs at universities in China, and from the analysis of Gaokao cut-offs in terms of percentiles of students attempting Gaokao and broad equivalences to UAIs and ATARs in Australia, universities in Australia will be able to set Gaokao cut-offs at levels which will produce students with outstanding ability. This new cohort will not be empty. Elsewhere in this report, it is noted that universities in China, including Tier 1 universities, receive 120 applicants for every 100 places. Students with outstanding ability may not achieve the first preference, may miss out on a Tier 1 university and may be interested in studying overseas if the Gaokao result enables direct entry. This cohort also may be more diverse across fields of education than the current cohort, where 70% of undergraduates from China in Australian universities are in Business, as in Table 4 Chinese Undergraduates in Australia: New Enrolments 2008 in Attachment 3. Table 3 Chinese Undergraduates in China: New Enrolments 2007, also in Attachment 3, shows the distribution across fields of education of undergraduates in universities in China. A new cohort of undergraduates from China, directly from Gaokao, with high cut-offs, may choose fields of education other than Business.

In terms of transparency and practicality, universities can create certainty, and potentially increase the sizes of cohorts directly from senior secondary school in China, by setting Gaokao cut-offs with a lag. This report contains extensive detail on Gaokao cut-offs from 2009. From that detail, universities transparently can set Gaokao cut-offs for entry into their universities in 2010 and 2011. Students who achieve those transparent cut-offs, from the 2009 or 2010 Gaokao, would meet the academic requirements for direct entry to undergraduate degree programs in Australia. Of course, the students would also need to meet the university?s English language requirements including at least IELTS 6.0 for a student visa to an undergraduate degree program in Australia. A student with a conditional offer, subject to Gaokao, and an IELTS result, who has submitted an application for a student visa, subject to Gaokao, might sit Gaokao in June 2009, achieve the transparent university cut-off and start studying in Australia in July 2009. These arrangements would have the effect of maintaining transparent standards and maximising sizes of cohorts of students with outstanding ability, directly from senior secondary school in China to undergraduate degree programs in Australian universities.

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The Gaokao
There is little that is national about the Gaokao. While called the National College Entrance Examination, the only aspect that is national is that examinations are held nationwide on the same three days in June each year (examinations were traditionally held in July but were moved to June from 2007). Among China?s 31 provinces, 16 provinces are able to develop the senior secondary curriculum and design their own Gaokao following the requirements set by MoE: Anhui, Beijing, Chongqing, Fujian, Guangdong, Hubei, Hunan, Jiangsu, Jiangxi, Liaoning, Shaanxi, Shandong, Shanghai, Sichuan, Tianjin, Zhejiang. The other 15 provinces follow curriculum and Gaokao papers designed by MoE (though there are three to four samples for provinces to choose depending on their individual circumstance): Gansu, Guangxi, Guizhou, Hebei, Heilongjiang, Henan, Inner Mongolia, Jilin, Shanxi, Qinghai, Tibet, Xinjiang, Yunnan, Ningxia, Hainan. The movement to greater provincial autonomy is all part of the broader curriculum reform agenda noted earlier. Annually MoE issues guidelines for course and examination requirements for both the science and the humanities streams to be 49 followed in senior secondary schools . A comparison between the two streams in the compulsory subjects of mathematics, Chinese and a foreign language provided in the guidelines indicates that there is little variation between the two streams for compulsory subjects. Using mathematics as an example, the variations identified between the two streams were evident in three areas out of 22 listed as areas for learning. The science stream required a higher degree of complexity in some areas,
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and the inclusion of mathematical induction, counting principles and probability and statistics, which are not required in the humanities stream (from the humanities and science stream syllabus descriptions contained in the experimental curriculum standards 2009). While English is the most popular compulsory language, a large number of students choose Japanese, German or French as their compulsory language as they have a reputation for being easier to obtain a higher grade in the Gaokao. It should be noted that these guides set the minimum standard to be included in the curriculum and tested in the Gaokao, and that some provinces may set more complex papers. For the provinces that design their own papers, an expert panel is established to develop a series of questions, pooled and then selected randomly for use in the examination. Each of the provincial examination authorities interviewed during the research confirmed the high level of integrity accorded to the process. When the issue of provincial differences between papers was raised, the response was consistent – it is not possible to compare the Gaokao province to province as each Gaokao is designed to reflect the senior secondary curriculum implemented in that province. There was however some concession that in less developed regions there may be Gaokao subjects that are less complex. Foreign languages were cited as one area with significant regional variation in student outcomes. The Beijing authorities noted during the interview that the Beijing Gaokao English language test was the most complex in China on the basis that there is a greater component of oral and aural in the examination.

Chinese Ministry of Education – Syllabus and Examination Descriptions 2008-2009

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In response to questions about possible changes to the current compulsory subjects taught, MoE advised that only in languages would there be potential to change but that Chinese and mathematics would remain 50 core high school subjects . For the 16 provinces that design their own Gaokao, MoE conducts an evaluation on the quality of the examination papers, after the Gaokao each year. An assessment including on: contents, difficulty, relevance to the curriculum, the exam?s ability to distinguish academic variations amongst the students, the quality of the questions and the answers they are seeking, are all taken into consideration by MoE and the province awarded a rating of A, B, or C. The results are not made public but are used as a quality assurance tool to ensure that each province is operating in accordance with the guidelines provided, and is consistent in 51 student outcomes across provinces . The research observed that provincial disparity in cut-off scores appears to be a result of access to quality education resources. Students from well-developed provinces which have a high number of student places to eligible students can access places with a lower Gaokao score than students from provinces where there are high student numbers compared to available university places, and therefore require higher Gaokao scores to gain entry. Even amongst the provinces where the research was conducted, Shanghai and Beijing students had a higher chance of securing a university place than students from Jiangsu and Guangdong Provinces. In Shanghai for example, 82% of students sitting the Gaokao in 2009 have the possibility of finding a place in a higher education institution as opposed to 62% of

students in Guangdong Province . Similarly, in terms of access to Tier One institutions in 2008, the provincial cut-off for a science stream Beijing student seeking a Beijing place was 502 while for a student from Guangdong looking for a university place in their province, the cut-off was 53 564 . These basic statistics highlight the gap in access and opportunity for Chinese students to gain a university place.

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Gaokao - the test
Throughout China, for three days in June, the vicinity around schools holding the Gaokao is unusually quiet. Traffic is diverted and construction sites are closed as parents wait anxiously outside the school gates for news of how well their child held out under what Chinese often refer to as the most gruelling experience of one?s lifetime. Gaokao generally comprises three compulsory subjects, mathematics, Chinese, and a foreign language, one comprehensive depending on whether students are in the science or the humanities stream, and specialty subjects. The test comprises a mix of multiple choice and short answer questions covering each of the subjects. On completion, the test papers are computer scanned and managed by the Provincial Education Authorities. Multiple-choice questions are marked through a computer program and the sections of the exam which require individual marking are sent randomly (electronically) to two teachers for marking. If the variation on the mark is greater than five points the paper is sent to a third teacher for the final mark. The provincial education authorities monitor the whole process very closely, and notwithstanding the creative efforts to which
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Chinese Ministry of Education - Interview April 2009 51 Guangdong Provincial Education Examination Authority – Interview June 2009

Education Authorities in Shanghai, Beijing, Jiangsu, Guangzhou - Interviews April to June 2009 53 Chinese Ministry of Education - Provincial Cut-offs 2007-2009

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students may go to cheat during the examination, the incidents are very low compared to the 10 million students that sit the test each year.

Gaokao – provincial variations
As noted, there is little that is national about the Gaokao, therefore each province considers how it will grade its Gaokao based on its own scoring formula. The main variations are: ? out of 750 – which is the majority of provinces and is based on three plus x subjects at 150 for each compulsory subject and 300 for comprehensive subjects ? in Shanghai the score is out of 630 based on three compulsory subjects and one integration or comprehensive test and a mark out of 30 based on senior secondary high performance ? in Hainan the grade is out of 900 ? and in Jiangsu in 2009, the score is out of 480 which is a combination of three compulsory subjects and three subjects taken over the three years of senior secondary high school which is moderated to deliver an A,B,C or D 54 result . Whichever system is implemented in the provinces, the research did not distil from the interviews that there was any major provincial variation in the difficulty of Gaokao. As noted earlier the Gaokao is based on the curriculum taught in the province and they are only guidelines for 55 implementation . Some provinces noted there was greater complexity in some subjects in the more developed regions, noting that where students had greater

access to resources there was greater competitiveness towards high achievement. There was also concession that in disadvantaged regions there was a degree of support through encouragement incentives for students, including bonus points. Again, the research did not assess these issues to have any impact on wide regional variation in content or difficulty of the Gaokao. Increasingly though, provinces are experimenting with different ways to incorporate the skills and knowledge learned through the three years of senior secondary high into a comprehensive university entrance score. The most notable change in doing this however is the move away from a purely merit-based examination system, to a more subjective system that will require moderation – and it is this aspect that is drawing the most criticism from students and parents.

Gaokao – provincial cut-offs
The annual provincial cut-off for entry into Tier One, Tier Two and Tier Three institutions is determined once all the Gaokao results are known and a distribution cut-off of roughly the top 10% of the scores allocated to Tier One university entrance, and 20% respectively for Tier Two and Three institutions, so that about half the Gaokao candidates go to university. Each authority interviewed noted that this was not a set allocation and does not reflect the real number of university places available at each level. It represents the student distribution for places in China. The provincial cut-off scores are released on-line within days of the Gaokao result announcements in each province. Students in provinces that make their preferences after the results are known, make their university choices based on the published cut-off points. The 2009 Gaokao provincial cut-off points are listed in Table 1:

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Jiangsu Provincial Education Examination Authority – Interview April 2009 55 Chinese Ministry of Education – Interview April 2009

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Provincial cut-off points for entry to Tier One and Two Universities.

the interviews that authorities considered the variations in timing a factor affecting the results of the placements. The critical decision is the student?s first preference, and then deciding how to rank subsequent preferences. Even for an excellent student, being overly ambitious can sometimes have a perverse effect. With limited quotas in courses, missing out on a first preference may mean that even second and third choices may already be filled with first preference candidates, and the student is left without securing a place, even though they attained a mark above the cut-off for Tier One. This issue was discussed with each of the education authorities and relevant institutions and each believed that the newly introduced computerised system for placement would ease this problem considerably, and provide a fairer system for placing students.

Student preferences
High demand for places in particular courses will result in a high cut-off level, and those courses with less demand may be filled with a lower-level requirement. As noted earlier, Gaokao students are provided with a guide by their provincial education authority detailing the previous years? cut-off scores, and student quotas for their province for all universities and courses nationwide. Students are able to assess their competitiveness for entry into universities, both in their home province, and in external provinces based on the previous years? cut-off points. Cut-off grades are neither static nor predictable and kept as such by both the quota system, and the competition for limited places in an expanding senior secondary education system. The books serve only as a guide and are far from re-assuring students of the situation in the year of their own Gaokao. While the procedure and process are transparent, deciding on university preferences is a daunting experience for students to assess their ability and meet parental expectations in a fiercely competitive lottery for placement. Being realistic about ability and expected achievement in the Gaokao is a critical element for students to consider when nominating their university preferences. Generally students can nominate four university/course preferences but the timing of when a student is able to nominate their preference varies across provinces. For example in Shanghai and Beijing, students list their preferences on-line before sitting the Gaokao whereas in other regions students nominate after the Gaokao but before their results are known, and in other provinces such as Guangdong, students receive their results and the bottom cut-off point for each Tier before submitting their preferences. There was no indication from

Gaokao - the university cut-off
This much talked about phenomenon is not a mystery, but rather, for the student, a combination of fate and probability. Examining university cut-off points provides an enormous insight into the competitiveness for top Chinese universities and courses, but also highlights the regional disparity for top students to gain access to quality higher education, as already noted. Student recruitment plans, developed in consultation between MoE, the provincial authorities and the universities, are approved annually, and largely determine the number of students each university can accept. Plans include quotas for students from that province, as well as quotas for students from all other provinces. Universities have a social responsibility to include numbers of students from disadvantaged and ethnic minority regions but for some top universities these numbers vary as they

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strive to attract the top talent throughout the country. However, other universities, including Shanghai University, advised that in 2009, 50% of the student intake will be 56 from provinces outside Shanghai . The cut-off scores for university entrance are determined once all places are allocated and each university?s student recruitment plan has been filled. Each university manages its own ?fill down? system and the university cut-off is reached when quotas of students from the province of the university, as well as the quotas from all external provinces, have been filled. For example, Fudan University allocates 100 places for students from Jiangsu province. Once the 100 places have been filled from the highest scores down, and comprising only those students who nominated Fudan as their first preference, the cut-off mark is recorded by the lowest entry point for students from Jiangsu Province57. This system is replicated across the country. From this research, universities in China, including Tier 1 universities, receive 120 applicants for every 100 places. The introduction of a computerised system to manage student recruitment plans has eased the complexity for cross-referencing applications. A parallel system of sorting student preferences has removed potential discrimination and strengthened the integrity of university placements.

provincial education authority, and approved by MoE. A complex matrix of provincial quotas, university quotas, and subject quotas is negotiated annually between universities and the respective authorities. These national and provincial university recruitment plans, essentially quotas, are targeted so that the top 10% of Gaokao candidates are eligible for admission to Tier One universities and the next 20% of Gaokao candidates are eligible for admission to Tier Two universities. Even in a centrally planned economy, actual intakes are determined in a market for places in courses demanded by students with actual Gaokao scores, subject to regional variations as well as issues of access and opportunity. But the important outcome is the targeting, across all provinces, to find the top 10% and the next 20% of candidates. Starting on the next page, Table 1: Provincial cut-off points for entry to Tier One and Two Universities lists these Tier One and Tier Two cut-offs by province.

Outcome
In a centrally planned economy, the Chinese Government is responsible for regulating the number of university graduates based on the economic and social needs of the country. For nationallevel universities, MoE sets the student quota in consultation with each university, while for provincial-level universities recruitment plans are developed with the
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Shanghai University – Interview April 2009 57 Fudan University - Interview April 2009

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Table 1: Provincial cut-off points for entry to Tier One and Two universities
BEIJING Maximum points 750 GUANGDONG Maximum points 750 JIANGSU Maximum points 2009-480 2008-440 2007-750 SHANGHAI Maximum points 630 NINGXIA Maximum points 750 HEBEI Maximum points 750 ANHUI Maximum points 750 SHAANXI Maximum points 750 HENAN Maximum points 750 SHANXI Maximum points 750 LIAONING Maximum points 750 SHANDONG Maximum points 750 GANSU Maximum points 750 Tier 1st 2nd Tier 1st 2nd Tier 1st 2nd Tier 1st 2nd Tier 1st 2nd Tier 1st 2nd Tier 1st 2nd Tier 1st 2nd Tier 1st 2nd Tier 1st 2nd Tier 1st 2nd Tier 1st 2nd Tier 1st 2nd 2009 Humanities Science 532 501 489 459 2009 Humanities Science 587 585 540 530 2009 Humanities Science 348 326 2009 Humanities 471 429 2009 Humanities 501 467 2009 Humanities 539 502 2009 Humanities 543 501 2009 Humanities 540 495 2009 Humanities 552 510 2009 Humanities 548 507 2009 Humanities 559 495 2009 Humanities 596 576 2009 Humanities 516 466 2008 Humanities Science 515 502 472 455 2008 Humanities Science 570 565 524 510 2008 Humanities Science 330 300 2008 Humanities Science 471 467 428 399 2008 Humanities Science 532 498 488 457 2008 Humanities Science 537 552 503 514 2008 Humanities Science 553 563 513 507 2008 Humanities Science 557 527 520 490 2008 Humanities Science 557 563 513 517 2008 Humanities Science 545 546 510 511 2008 Humanities Science 538 515 470 433 2008 Humanities Science 584 582 567 557 2008 Humanities Science 560 558 501 507

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2007 Humanities 528 486 2007 Humanities 591 551 2007 Humanities 588 559 2007 Humanities 465 424 2007 Humanities 548 503 2007 Humanities 566 538 2007 Humanities 551 515 2007 Humanities 567 530 2007 Humanities 589 552 2007 Humanities 580 553 2007 Humanities 538 472 2007 Humanities 593 580 2007 Humanities 564 503

Science 531 478 Science 557 502 Science

Science 455 389 Science 468 428 Science 569 524 Science 579 520 Science 537 495 Science 567 520 Science 547 505 Science 520 438 Science 586 557 Science 521 470

Science 461 394 Science 531 493 Science 586 549 Science 563 505 Science 527 490 Science 596 553 Science 572 539 Science 519 433 Science 573 549 Science 562 516

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XINJIANG Maximum points 750 HAINAN Maximum points 900 HUBEI Maximum points 750 SICHUAN Maximum points 750 FUJIAN Maximum points 750 HUNAN Maximum points 750 HEILONG JIANG Maximum points 750 QINGHAI Maximum points 750 TIANJIN Maximum points 750 GUANGXI Maximum points 750 YUNNAN Maximum points 750 JILIN Maximum points 750 JIANGXI Maximum points 750 CHONGQING Maximum points 750

Tier 1st 2nd Tier 1st 2nd Tier 1st 2nd Tier 1st 2nd Tier 1st 2nd Tier 1st 2nd Tier 1st 2nd Tier 1st 2nd Tier 1st 2nd Tier 1st 2nd Tier 1st 2nd Tier 1st 2nd Tier 1st 2nd Tier 1st 2nd

2009 Humanities 499 445 2009 Humanities 670 600 2009 Humanities 518 491 2009 Humanities 540 480 2009 Humanities 582 518 2009 Humanities 554 507 2009 Humanities 531 467 2009 Humanities 433 475 2009 Humanities 511 462 2009 Humanities 523 467 2009 Humanities 520 478 2009 Humanities 530 466 2009 Humanities 515 482 2009 Humanities 546 480

Science 480 426 Science 632 573 Science 540 506 Science 498 436 Science 567 500 Science 534 471 Science 538 464 Science 390 365 Science 502 435 Science 507 443 Science 500 442 Science 539 466 Science 518 466 Science 557 502

2008 Humanities Science 525 515 467 454 2008 Humanities Science 658 625 597 566 2008 Humanities Science 532 548 508 516 2008 Humanities Science 598 593 548 534 2008 Humanities Science 547 534 487 471 2008 Humanities Science 581 536 537 482 2008 Humanities Science 569 577 504 508 2008 Humanities Science 490 438 470 418 2008 Humanities Science 523 522 483 466 2008 Humanities Science 528 501 470 440 2008 Humanities Science 550 530 510 475 2008 Humanities Science 565 569 497 493 2008 Humanities Science 520 512 487 461 2008 Humanities Science 576 544 510 488

2007 Humanities 520 457 2007 Humanities 654 595 2007 Humanities 525 500 2007 Humanities 559 510 2007 Humanities 565 505 2007 Humanities 562 526 2007 Humanities 567 499 2007 Humanities 495 418 2007 Humanities 513 473 2007 Humanities 574 522 2007 Humanities 575 530 2007 Humanities 567 487 2007 Humanities 573 538 2007 Humanities 540 476

Science 518 452 Science 614 556 Science 548 517 Science 533 474 Science 562 492 Science 535 487 Science 588 526 Science 467 405 Science 509 453 Science 545 481 Science 560 500 Science 574 487 Science 571