More head abroad for college studies
Since 2008, the number of mainland high-school students signing up for the national university entrance examination has declined every year.
Indeed, the once 'make-or-break' examination is losing much of its allure as a growing number of school-leavers choose to study abroad.
This year, 9.15 million have signed up for the two-day examination, known as the gaokao. That's 190,000 fewer than last year and 1.4 million below the record number in 2008.
Today marks the start of this year's examination.
Over the past four years, the enrolment has declined every year.
Some analysts have warned that this could force some universities to close. They say the reckless expansion of mainland universities since the late 1990s has contributed to the problem.
Furthermore, the number of mainlanders between 18 and 22 years of age will fall by about 40 million over the next decade due to the one-child policy.
That will pose a challenge to mainland universities, particularly the less prestigious ones.
On the bright side, mainland tertiary education institutions have made 6.85 million places available this year, lifting the post-examination admission rate from 57 per cent in 2008 to more than 75 per cent, new figures from the education ministry show.
The actual admission rate could be even higher because some who signed up for the gaokao decide against taking it.
A growing number of school-leavers are choosing to study overseas since it would improve their future job prospects.
According to a report last month by an internet portal that education researchers use, the number of secondary school pupils leaving to study overseas has risen by more than 20 per cent annually since 2007, and it is expected to hit 430,000 this year. Cheng Fangping, a professor specialising in education research at Renmin University, says a degree from a mainland university, particularly from a less prestigious college, no longer guarantees a decent job and is no longer as valuable as it was two to three decades ago.
In addition, the sharp increase in the number of mainlanders studying abroad in recent years shows a lack of confidence in domestic universities, Cheng says.
'But such competition is not always a bad thing as it could force many domestic universities to undergo overdue reforms in curriculum design and the cultivation of learning motivation,' Cheng said.
Xiong Bingqi, deputy director of the 21st Century Education Research Institute in Beijing, says mainland universities' rapid expansion had addressed a fundamental need for tertiary study. But the growing number of college places has failed to ease the anxiety among students and their parents that stem from a few top universities being given too much state funding at the expense of many regional colleges.
'The fight for a college place has just been replaced by the competition for a place at a few highly-sought-after universities,' Xiong said.