University of Birmingham opens door to students with top grades in Chinese gaokao entrance exam

It’s the latest Western college to recognise the gruelling national admissions test

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 17 October, 2018, 9:01pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 October, 2018, 9:00pm

Chinese students with top grades in the gaokaoChina’s gruelling national university entrance exam – can now apply for the University of Birmingham’s undergraduate programmes without having to sit more tests.

The college is one of 24 elite universities in Britain, collectively known as the Russell Group, which also includes Cambridge and Oxford.

“We welcome people from around the globe to study at Birmingham and Chinese students form an integral part of our education and research community,” David Eastwood, vice chancellor of the university, said in a statement.

The make-or-break gaokao, administered over two days in June, can set the course for a Chinese student’s future. Parents have been known to book hotel rooms near schools so that students can rest between subjects, or block roads to reduce traffic noise. Some students have even used IV drips to help them focus while they swot up ahead of the exam.

Some 10 million students sit the exam annually, but only 2 per cent of them are accepted into China’s top 38 universities, and just 0.05 per cent get into Tsinghua and Peking – the Oxbridge of China.

Critics say the college entrance exam stifles creativity and leads to rote learning. China has said it will come up with a new system by 2020 that diversifies standards for university admissions.

Some students who fail to achieve the high scores needed for entry to local universities choose to retake the test, while others sit the US exams, the SAT and ACT, or the British A-Levels or International Baccalaureate, and head overseas to study instead.

But in recent years more Western universities have started to accept the gaokao – formally known as the National Higher Education Entrance Examination.

In June, the University of New Hampshire became the first top university in the US to recognise China’s college entrance exam, along with the University of San Francisco and Suffolk University in Boston. It is also recognised by 30 universities in Australia and 30 in Canada, as well as colleges in Italy, France and Spain.

Why do so many Chinese study abroad, when local universities are already among the world’s best?

The Chinese entrance exam is graded out of 750, with each province setting individual scores for university admissions. But according to the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service in Britain, most universities in the country do not consider the gaokao to be a sufficient indicator of readiness for undergraduate study.

The emotional downside to studying in the UK for Chinese students

The British government is especially keen to attract Chinese students, as they contribute an estimated £15 billion (US$19.77 billion) to the economy. But more than half of the 600,000 Chinese students who began their studies abroad in 2017 chose to go to the US.