Towards more Equitable Access to Elite Higher Education in China

Prof. Ruan and her collaborators (Professor James Lee, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology; Professor Shanhua Yang, Peking University; and Professor Cameron Campbell, University of California at Los Angeles) studied access to elite education in China since 1949 by examining trends and patterns in the social origins of undergraduate students at Peking University, one of the two most prestigious and selective universities in China, and at Suzhou University, a major regional university. Peking University and Suzhou University represent two different types of elite universities. Peking University is a prestigious national-level elite university that attracts the best students from the entire country, whereas Suzhou University was set up as a provincial-level elite university to admit the best students from Jiangsu Province. Prof. Ruan’s research represents the first systematic study of trends and patterns in the social origins of students at these two types of elite universities in China.

The research project by Professor Danching Ruan and her team on access to elite higher education for the period of 1949-2002 has impacted on Chinese higher education in three ways:

1. Arousing extensive national attention to educational inequality in China.

Through dissemination of research findings via media reports and interviews, Professor Ruan’s research has generated extensive public attention in China related to equity of access to higher education and the implications for social inequality. The total audience for Prof. Ruan’s research across various print and electronic platforms is estimated to be in the tens of millions since the publication of the first major article in January 2012.

2. Shaping public discourse about educational inequity in China.

Prof. Ruan’s research has shaped public discourse about the mechanisms underlying the growing socio-economic gap in access to elite higher education over the past decade. Much of the public discussion drew insights from Ruan’s research and focused on the weaknesses of the educational system and college admission policy. The extensive public discussion generated a call for a review of the college admission policy and affirmative actions to eradicate educational inequality.

3. Influencing policy makers and motivating policy change in China.

Prof. Ruan’s research was read by top political leaders in China. Induced by the extensive public discussion of issues foregrounded by the research, the Central Government implemented affirmative policies to enable more students from disadvantaged family backgrounds to receive higher education, particularly in elite universities.