Thousands of mainland students flock to Hong Kong for SAT exams

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 December, 2012, 11:12am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 December, 2012, 10:01pm

Mainland Chinese students flooded to Chep Lap Kok’s AsiaWorld-Expo early on Saturday morning, to take the SAT US college entrance exams, The Beijing News reported on Monday.

The event, organised by Beijing-based New Oriental Education, a company providing study-abroad services, drew thousands of mainland Chinese students seeking to break away from the ultra-competitive Gaokao – China’s own college entrance exam system.

Huge queues stretching several hundred metres wound round corners as concerned parents shuffled to and fro to find out the latest exam times and details for their children.

According to mainland media reports, an estimated 95 per cent of the candidates taking the tests were from mainland China, where SAT test centres are still non-existent.

Tour operators have been quick to cash in on the growing phenomenon in recent years, providing chartered buses shuttling them directly to test centres, hotel rooms and entire tour packages to students and parents, spawning a whole new industry dubbed “exam tourism”.

An exam package trip to the city would cost about 5,000 yuan (HK$6,200), according to the China Daily in a November article.

According to local media reports, from October 2007 to June 2008, up to 7,000 mainland students came to Hong Kong to take the exams. From October 2008 to June 2009, the figure had nearly doubled to more than 15,000.

The Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority (HKEAA) estimates this figure will exceed 40,000 by the end of this year.

Two factors have been driving the mass exodus of mainland students abroad, Xiong Bingqi, deputy director of the 21st Century Education Research Institute in Beijing told The Beijing News. China’s burgeoning economic growth means more middle-income families can afford to send their children overseas to study.

The US-based Institute of International Education (IIE) estimates the number of mainland Chinese students attending US higher education institutions in the 2010-11 school year to have increased 23 per cent from 2009-10, totalling 157,600. In 2011-12, the figure rose again to 194,000, according to the IIE

Half of all mainland students studying abroad do so in the US, according to New Oriental Education.

Increasing numbers of parents and students are opting out of China’s high-stakes Gaokao, the mainland’s one and only do-or-die college entrance exam system, which has been the subject of heated debate in recent years due to a caste-based system.

Chinese netizens were quick voice their opinions.

"Some migrant workers don’t seem to have a choice," said one user on microblogging site Sina Weibo. "They have no choice but to pay a lot of money to take the SATs and study abroad, since they can’t get fair access to the [Gaokao] college entrance examinations at home."

The current policy allows students from major Chinese cities like Beijing and Shanghai to get into better universities even with scores significantly lower than those of their counterparts in other provinces. Migrant workers without urban Hukou – China’s household registration system – find it much harder to get in.

“Students who take these [SAT] exams are just afraid of competition,” said another Weibo user.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the number of mainland students studying in the US. The story has been corrected.