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Erasing College Divisions

Chen Xue

Original article published in 21st Century Newspaper |



Zhang Mingjie, 23, didn’t mind attending a “second batch” university when he first entered Gansu Agricultural University in Lanzhou three years ago. But ever since he started looking for jobs earlier this year, Zhang has been feeling a growing sense of regret. He wonders if maybe he should have worked harder to get into a “better” university.


Based on his experiences, he compares college graduates to vegetables waiting to be sold. “Students from second batch universities are vegetables in street markets, while those from first batch universities are being sold at supermarkets. It doesn’t necessarily mean that vegetables from street markets are not as good, but top companies only shop at supermarkets,” said Zhang. “That’s the problem.”


But a new proposal may erase the distinction between first-tier and second-tier schools, helping to put “second batch” graduates like Zhang on equal footing with their peers. Shanghai plans to stop categorizing universities as “first-” and “second-batch”.


In the past, top-tier universities could recruit high school students before the “second batch” could. Under Shanghai’s plan, all universities will recruit high school graduates during the same time period, according to students’ applications and college entrance examination scores.


The new move is going to help remove the discrimination between universities, according to Xiong Bingqi from 21th Century Education Research Institute. Many “first batch” universities previously benefited from government education endeavors like “Project 211” and “Project 985”, which gave them an advantage over other schools.


Shanghai’s plan will also push schools to stay competitive by providing quality education. “Previous classifications by ‘batches’ created a stark distinctions between schools, even though all schools have their strong majors and weak ones,” Ye Zhiming, former deputy head master at Shanghai University, told Shanghai Youth Daily. “Now they’re going to compete on the same platform.”


In fact, the corporate obsession with first batch universities has declined over the last few years.


Weighing name value


“The school classification in job applications is no longer a decisive factor, especially for privately owned companies and foreign companies,” said Xiao Lirong from Spring Professional, an international recruitment company. “Good learning habits are more important than which school you went to, because the changing society is pushing every one of us to constantly adapt to new skills.”


When students apply for overseas universities, post-graduate institutions do often consider which undergraduate school each applicant attended. But among UK universities, a high GPA can compensate for attending a “second batch” school, according to Lin Dongming from JJL Overseas Education.


“If students from the first batch or 985 and 211 universities are required to have an average score of 80 percent, those from other universities will be able to compete if they have a score of 85 or higher,” said Lin.


As for American universities, they care more about students’ majors than which schools they attended, according to Dong Hongxu from JJL.


“For science students, projects and research experience matter. For art students, a fruitful internship is more important than school ranking,” said Dong. “This is why universities like Yale and Harvard don’t have strict requirements for applicants. They don’t want to set up thresholds.”

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