Record number of students sit down to make-or-break exam
A record 10 million students will hit exam halls across the mainland today for the two-day, make-or-break college entrance exam which marks its 30th anniversary this year.
They will compete for just 5.7 million places in the National College Entrance Examination, or gaokao, Xinhua reported.
For millions, it will be the only way of turning around their lives - especially for children from the countryside striving for greater social mobility - and is an anxious time for parents whose sons and daughters have toiled through 12 years of schooling.
The system has received mounting criticism over the past decade for encouraging rote learning and discouraging creativity and originality, and for judging students' abilities solely from test results.
It has also been attacked for placing too much pressure on over-burdened students.
The college entrance exam was abolished for 11 years during the Cultural Revolution, when universities were seen as 'bourgeois hotbeds nurturing elitism'.
Deng Xiaoping restored the system in 1977, when 5.7 million candidates, ranging in age from 13 to 37, vied for 270,000 places.
To give more people access to higher education, the authorities started expanding university enrolments in the late 1990s.
Last year, the admission rate had increased to 57 per cent, compared with 4.7 per cent in 1977.
But the huge number of graduates has created new employment pressures. Statistics from the Ministry of Education show that 4.13 million students graduated from mainland colleges last year, up from 1.08 million in 1998. The number is expected to reach five million this year.
Education Minister Zhou Ji said the expansion programme boosted the country's human capital.