Students struggle with rich-poor gap in top universities
Published: Sep 06, 2018 09:26 PM

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

September has seen millions of young adults go off to college for the first time. Surviving the fierce gaokao, China's national college entrance exams, the page of their life story is expected to turn to a fresh chapter. However, a sad reality is that they will not start academic life from the same starting point thanks to a grave disparity - they come from different socioeconomic backgrounds.

An in-depth piece recently published by the China Youth Daily shines the spotlight on the gap between freshmen from low-income rural families and those from well-off urban families, bringing attention to a question: Is your social status determined by where you're born?

In the article, a young man surnamed Cui in a small village of Huize county, Southwest China's Yunnan Province, received his admission letter from Peking University, one of China's top two universities, while mixing mortar at a construction site with his parents. He also received another letter of a young man from his hometown who graduated from Peking University in 2017, which said "There are still some problems that diligence cannot solve. Even if we attend Peking University, we remain the 'mirror image' of millions of migrant workers."

University is not an ivory tower. It's an epitome of society in which gap between students from different family backgrounds becomes apparent. Those from poor families get into top universities through hard work. However, they easily find themselves dwarfed by their classmates from well-off families in terms of both material life and campus life. When students from wealthy backgrounds are taking part in club activities, those from disadvantaged backgrounds are doing part-time jobs to pay their bills.

The on-campus gap between the rich and poor has an impact on the values, activities and mental state of students, particularly those from poor backgrounds. According to a January survey by the Office of Student Financial Aid of Peking University, over 50 percent of the 135 respondents who were recipients of financial aid from the office felt they lacked confidence and were "weak" in social life.

The growing disparity between rich and poor students is an emerging challenge facing China. It calls for Chinese education authorities to dedicate more resources and know-how to address the issue. More student assistance centers and channels should be set up to help disadvantaged students, not only in overcoming financial difficulties, but also integrating into school life and participating in social activities.

More importantly, we shouldn't instill a sense of fear in the poor that they are incapable of changing their destiny through education any more. Family background does play a role in affecting one's future. But it's not a decisive factor. 

Receiving higher education so far has still been acknowledged as the most effective ladder for upward social mobility. Those graduating from top universities, poor or rich, are more likely to find decent and high-paying jobs. But windows will certainly be closed if the poor students idle themselves complaining about the disparity with the rich.

If I were asked to write a letter to Cui, I would say: "There are still some problems that diligence cannot solve. But never give up striving. As long as you keep trying, there will be numerous possibilities."

The author is a reporter with the Global Times. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

blog comments powered by Disqus