While the UK and US higher education sectors continue to adapt to the impact of Covid-19, another revolutionary education reform, Gaokao, has been happening in China.

Gaokao (高考) is China’s National College Entrance Examination, a prerequisite for entrance into almost all higher education institutions at the undergraduate level. In 2020 alone, Gaokao had more than 10 million participants, and it has grown to become a critical reference for international universities and big-name employers alike. 

With the reforms due to be introduced in eight more key provinces in China in 2021, Gaokao is no longer something you can overlook. So here’s how to get ahead of the changes coming and what they mean for your Chinese student recruitment.

What do HE institutions need to know about the Gaokao reforms?

> The High School 3+1+2 formulation

Previously, Chinese students were required to pick either a Science or a Liberal Arts Track in High School, directing them towards a particular subject major at university. Under the new reforms, students will still be required to take Chinese, Maths, and English as their three compulsory subjects, and they will also need to choose between Physics and History, however they gain full choice over any combination of two subjects from the remaining four. This is called the “3+1+2” formulation. 

> The Major+School application system

Under the current system, universities are classed as Tier 1 and Tier 2, while students are grouped as First Batch and Second Batch, based on scores, and admitted accordingly. Although students are allowed to indicate several preferred majors for each university application, it’s the university rather than the major that matters most. The Gaokao reform is shifting this so that students will now be able to choose beyond just a Tier 1 or Tier 2 university and instead, from 2021 onwards, they will be able to indicate up to 45 ‘Major+School’ preferences.

How can international education institutions adapt their China recruitment strategy to stay ahead of the competition?

> First things first; entry requirements

Whether your institution is applying the Gaokao score as a critical measure or an optional reference for admission, your admission criteria will probably need an upgrade. 

In the previous system where only two-course tracks (Sciences and Liberal Arts) were available, groupings were much simpler. However, as the new formulation lifts the limit on interdisciplinary studies, prospective students’ education portfolios are diversifying, meaning you’ll need to design a set of criteria to cover every course combination, in order to identify the most suitable candidates. 

> Enhance your positioning and messaging to close the market gap

The new ‘Major+School’ admission policy strongly relies on High School subject choices, so students will not be considered for certain Chinese university majors if they have not studied the right subjects (for example, students will not be able to study Chemistry if they have not previously studied it at High School). 

Chinese students may therefore find more open, international university admission systems more attractive and so may opt for overseas HE education to gain a ‘second chance’ at their preferred subject. To take advantage of these opportunities, you should look to messaging around your institution’s flexible entry requirements and provision of foundation courses that will help bridge the gap. 

> Update your targeting strategy

Interdisciplinary studies will be the new normal for Chinese students, meaning they can no longer be classified under Physics-led and History-led streams. Instead, you need to identify and cover all possible subject combinations (there are now 12 in total), as well as both track-level (Arts or Science) and subject-level interests when targeting prospects.

Revamping your approach to Chinese student recruitment may sound daunting, but it’s worth getting it right now, especially considering the strong growth we’re seeing from China as one of the top sources of international students. The Gaokao reform will lead to a drastic overhaul of the system, but it is not happening overnight. So why not make the most of the 2021 transition period to test, refine and improve your new approaches to get ready for what’s coming. Get in touch with our China recruitment and marketing experts today.

Article by

Yushan Luo