Parents pray for exam rule change
Liu Yuliang, a mechanical engineer originally from Shandong province, said he saw a glimmer of hope in the government's timetable for an overhaul of the national university entrance examinations, also known as the gaokao.
'I've seen light at the end of the tunnel, but still don't know how long the tunnel is,' said Liu, who moved to Beijing 10 years ago and lives there with his family, though they are not registered as Beijing residents.
Because they do not have Beijing residency, Liu is anxiously awaiting the policy announcement to see if his 14-year-old daughter will be allowed to sit the exams in Beijing rather than be forced to return to their hometown in Shandong later this year to finish high school so she can take the all-important exam there.
The Minister of Education, Yuan Guiren, told journalists at the opening of this year's Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) at the weekend that his ministry was making a final push for a national policy that would allow students to sit exams where they live, even if they were not registered as permanent residents there.
However, Yuan said that both the students and their parents would still have to meet certain requirements, including living and working in a place for a specific time, especially in major cities.
'We need more co-ordination in some cities that would have greater difficulties in introducing such a policy,' Yuan said. 'But it won't take another 10 months.'
Under the current university entrance exam policy - which is enforced via the controversial hukou household registration system - students can sit exams only where they were originally registered by their parents, even if that registration occurred in a city where they haven't lived in years.
As a result, many students have to return to wherever they were registered to live, normally their parents' hometown, in order to take the university entrance exam.
Crackdowns on exam-driven migrations, which see students flooding into areas where competition for a spot at university is not as fierce, such as in Beijing, means the students often end up separated from their parents for up to two years.
More than 200 million migrant factory and construction workers from rural areas currently live in cities.
In an open letter signed by 90,000 parents and submitted on Thursday to the National People's Congress and the CPPCC, the parents called for an abolition of university entrance exam restrictions, to address the plight of hundreds of thousands of migrant families who have been forced to separate.
Yang Dongping, a professor of education at the Beijing Institute of Technology, said major metropolitan areas such as Beijing and Shanghai may face greater difficulties in relaxing university entrance exam systems because of their larger migrant populations.
But Yang also urged other regions to follow an exam by Shandong, which allows students to sit exams in the province as long as they finish senior high school there, regardless of where they are registered to live.
'If second-tier provinces or cities can follow the suit, that would take much of the pressure off Beijing and other big cities in relaxing their gaokao policies,' Yang said.
However, Jiao Huailing, a 46-year-old accountant from Jining in Shandong, said that policymakers instead should look at the root cause of such restrictions, particularly that major cities are given larger quotas in college recruitment, such as at elite schools, making competition less fierce in those areas.
Jiao, who sent her daughter back to a Shandong boarding school early last year to sit the university entrance exam, said that authorities should have tackled such inequalities earlier, as the country has come a long way since its reform and opening up began more than three decades ago.
'It's a fundamental right for a family to be able to live together anywhere, but in this country we simply can't do that, because of the gaokao,' she said.
The number of people, mostly aged 18, who sat the three-day national college entrance exams, or gaokao, on the mainland in 2011