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This year 9.15 million students will sit the national college entrance exam, or gaokao, on Thursday and Friday, with an expected average admission rate of 75 percent, the Ministry of Education said.
According to the ministry, the number of national exam participants has fallen 2 percent from last year, while the admission rate has increased 3 percentage points.
Only 12 provinces saw a surge in the number of students taking the gaokao this year, as the nation's colleges plan to enroll 6.85 million students, 100,000 more than 2011.
In fact, the drop in exam participants and the rising admission rate have been trends since 2008, when the number of participants was 10.5 million and the admission rate was 57 percent.
The falling number of gaokao participants is in line with the decline in the number of people under 18, but studying overseas is also regarded as a reason.
This year Shanghai only has about 55,000 exam takers, making it the sixth consecutive year of decline. Last year, about 61,000 students took the exam in Shanghai, but the city had nearly 97,000 high-school graduates.
Similarly, Beijing had 76,000 students participating in the exam last year out of more than 126,000 graduates. This year the number of exam takers is 73,460.
Meanwhile, rural students are experiencing an increasingly fierce struggle to enter better domestic universities, as the very top schools are skewed toward city residents.
"We can hardly find anyone here with a rural household registration," said Pan Wei, a professor at Peking University.
To ease the inequality in education, the ministry has issued a new policy this year to open the door of prestigious colleges to poverty-stricken students.
This year a new project was launched to increase admission quotas by 12,100 for students from 680 poverty-stricken counties across China.
With the project, students in those regions will have a 10-percent higher chance of enrolling in a key university, according to the ministry.
"Even if some rural students like me have a chance to enroll in a first-class university, we still have a smaller chance than urban students to be successful," said An Hongyong, 21, a fourth-year college student in Beijing from a poor family in Shanxi province.
"The primary education in rural areas taught us little except how to get a high score in the gaokao, so we can't even use a computer when we enter college, and surely have less competence in job hunting," An said.
"However, if we just return home like the policy suggests, what we learned from college will just be wasted. Take me for example, I learned electronics science but there are few electronic plants in my hometown in Datong, Shanxi province, so it would be wasting my four years if I take a job there."
He plans to either stay in Beijing or Tianjin after graduating. But to have a better chance in the job market, he has decided to spend another three years in graduate school.
"If the government really wants to change the inequality of education, there is still a lot to do in improving primary education in rural regions."
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