Following recent scandals in the US, in which wealthy parents and celebrities were revealed to be “buying” their children places at top universities, a different kind of cheating has been exposed in China. A private school in Shenzhen has been accused of bringing in “ringers” from another province to boost its scores in the university entrance exam, in order to increase its appeal to parents.
The practice, dubbed “Gaokao immigration” by China Daily, is being taken seriously because each province has its own allocation of places at the top universities. By bringing students from Hebei to compete in Shenzhen, the school is perceived to be cheating local students of their places.
The Gaokao, China’s hugely important and fiercely competitive university entrance exam, is the scene of a long-running battle between education authorities and cheats. Students are subject to facial recognition scans, fingerprint identification, screening, and sometimes body searches before being admitted to the exam room. High-tech devices have been used more suited to James Bond, such as a pen with a hidden camera and a pair of glasses containing a scanner. The authorities have responded with drones, and sensors to detect radio signals.
The consequences of being caught cheating are grave: students are banned from taking the test for three years, adults have been imprisoned, and officials dismissed from their posts. However success or failure in the exam is seen as making such a difference to young people’s life chances that many continue to take the risk. In 2014 parents in Hubei rioted when their children were prevented from cheating, insisting that as everyone else did it they were being unfairly disadvantaged.
Suspicions were aroused when third-grade students from Shenzhen Fuyuan School performed exceptionally well on a mock test, achieving six of the top ten scores in the southern metropolis. Sceptical parents discovered that students from the school which had previously been admitted to prestigious Beijing universities also appeared in the promotional materials of Shenzhen Fuyuan’s partner school in Hubei. 32 students have now been barred from the test, having used dishonest means to sign up when their hukou (household registrations) means they should have taken the test elsewhere.