Education policy fails to fully promote intergenerational mobility: study

Chinese university students at a graduation ceremony. Photo: Reuters

A Chinese policy adopted in 1999 to give more students access to the country's higher education cannot effectively contribute to raising people's socio-economic status, as more university students from the remote areas feel inferior to their rich peers due to the poor family background, a recent study shows.

After comparing two groups of university graduates respectively born in 1960-1979 and in the 1980s, the research, done by Yang Zhongchao, a doctoral graduate at Peking University, one of China's top institutions of higher education, discovered that the policy of expanding university enrollment failed to improve intergenerational mobility across China where well-educated people from the lower class still face hurdles in climbing up the social ladder after graduation from universities.

The gross enrollment rate of Chinese universities jumped to 40 percent in 2015 from 9.8 percent in 1998, the year before the implementation of the university enrollment enlargement policy.

Upper class the biggest beneficiary

Regardless of its limited contribution to narrowing the educational gap between the rich and poor in a stable political environment, the research said that the policy still benefited the upper class more than the lower class due to the former's economic advantage and social connections.

The research described the inequality in higher education as a result of the inequality in the phase of basic education, saying that the longer the study period of a father, the lower the level of difficulty his children have in receiving education up to high school.

The research also showed that social advantage could help children from the upper class find a job after graduation from university, adding that government agencies and state-owned enterprises also consider an applicant's family background besides the educational background.

In 2014, the Organization for Economic Cooperation found that the role of higher education in promoting intergenerational mobility in the industrialized countries had become weaker.

Quandary of top university graduates

In October, an article narrating a top Chinese university graduate's frustrations about his life in Beijing struck a chord on the Internet among many students and graduates of the country's prestigious universities who should have been proud of their enviable education.

Just then, Fan Yueshu, a student from Fudan University, one of China's top universities, launched an anonymous questionnaire survey on a WeChat public account run by the university's students, asking about things that make students feel self-abased when studying at Fudan University. The response was beyond Fan's expectation, with answers including academic performance, appearance, social intercourse, family background, lack of knowledge and so on.

In an article titled "I find I am nothing after attending Project 985 and 211 universities", Fan, a girl from a remote county, recalled how she became self-contemptuous after being admitted into the Shanghai-based university where she once felt inferior to those with excellent family background, and finally encouraged her peers to be confident no matter where they were born.

Project 985 is a project aimed at promoting the development and reputation of the Chinese higher education system by establishing world-class universities and colleges in the 21st century. Project 211 is a project of national key universities and colleges with a goal of raising the research standards of high-level universities and colleges and cultivating strategies for socio-economic development.

On Zhihu, an online question-and-answer platform in China, Xiong Xiling, a doctoral student studying psychology at Sun Yat-sen University, a Project 985/211 university based in Guangzhou, southern China's Guangdong province, attributed the sense of inferiority to "upward social comparison", a psychological state that will easily lead to self-negation.

Xiong said that a study targeting students of a Project 985 university found that students with higher self-esteem levels would be more easily frustrated with social phobia caused by "upward social comparison", which might include several elements beyond one's control such as appearance and family background.

Xiong added that Project 985/211 university students from the remote areas would feel isolated from the society because they could not get used to life and study in the big cities.

Previously, there were rumors that the Chinese government was planning to put an end to the implementation of Project 985 and 211 in a bid to root out discrimination in employment.

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