BEIJING, July 17 -- High school students in the less-developed middle and western regions of China will have a better chance to get into universities this year.
The Ministry of Education Thursday announced new preferential enrollment policies to help boost education in those regions, as well as to narrow the widening gap between east and west China.
New quotas call for more students from the middle and west regions to be accepted into Chinese universities.
The total number of students enrolled for the coming fall semester from the middle region will increase by 6.5 percent, while the western region will see a 7.3 percent jump, both higher than the country's average growth rate of 5 percent, according to a press release on the ministry's website.
The middle and western regions of China are home to nearly 30 percent of the country's 1.3 billion population. Those areas are also home to most of the country's ethnic minorities, including Tibetans, Inner Mongolians and Uygurs.
The education quality in these areas lags far behind the wealthy eastern region because of historic underdevelopment in their economies, complicated geographic situations and harsh living conditions. As a result, students from those areas get fewer opportunities into higher education.
Fourteen provinces with better education resources will provide 60,000 university spots for students from six less developed provinces, such as Anhui, Henan and Guizhou.
The top universities directly under the ministry will recruit more students from the western region, 2.7 percent more than last year. They will also cut the enrollment quota of students from their own city and give 40,000 of those spots to students from the middle and western provinces.
Also, six normal universities will educate more than 7,000 teachers-to-be for free, in return for their agreement to go back to their home regions and teach for a minimum of three years.
About 10.2 million high school students took part in the annual national college entrance exam in early June.
Nearly two thirds can successfully make it into universities and colleges thanks to the expansion of the Chinese higher education system since 1999.
But the West remains the poorest region in the country, despite the efforts of the Go West Campaign in the last decade, the latest Blue Book on the Western Region of China shows.
The Go West campaign, begun in 1999, includes many incentives for the western region, including preferential tax rates, policies and governmental investments.
"The major challenge in the Chinese education system is education equity, especially in the education resources allocation to west and east China," vice education minister Hao Ping told China Daily last week at the International Education Roundtable in Singapore.
The western region has less education investment in school facilities and teaching force, he said.
"We must ensure students there enjoy equal access to quality education," Hao said.
Over the past 10 years, the central and local governments have poured more than 20 billion yuan ($3 billion) into west China's nine-year compulsory education program. By the end of 2007, the free education project had covered the entire region, according to the Blue Book.
But the shortage of qualified teachers and limited school facilities result in poor education quality, a high dropout rate in the senior high schools and a low rate of students entering higher education, it says.
"And most of the college graduates from West China are reluctant to go back to their hometowns because of harsh working conditions," said the report.
Experts suggest that the government should invest more into the schools in the less-developed regions as well as explore other financial channels to help the western and middle regions.
For example, "a special education fund for ethnic minority groups should be set up to reward those who make great contribution in this regard," said professor Ji Zhilai from Shaanxi province's Xianyang Normal College.