Getting into a reputable high school or college is a difficult task for even the most privileged of Chinese students. Yet the situation for the children of migrant workers is infinitely worse. The Communist Party’s long-standing household registration policy, or hukou, has barred the children of migrant workers from even applying to many university-track high schools and universities. Yet according to a report on China National Radio, Beijing, Shanghai and Guangdong plan to gradually relax the restrictions.
As of 2013 in Beijing, and 2014 in Shanghai, the children of migrant workers living within city borders will gain access to higher-education exams. However, the rights are far from what their urban counterparts currently enjoy. The plan includes removing restrictions on admissions to vocational-track schools, and will only permit university access to those students who have first graduated from a vocational school programme. Even if they successfully complete such a program, their university applications will continue to be processed in their legal hometown.
According to reformists, the new policy will continue to discriminate against rural migrants. “It’s not ideal,” says Zhan Haite, the 15-year-old daughter of migrant workers who, despite being raised in Shanghai, was barred from attending a university-track high school. Her father’s campaign to secure education rights in Shanghai resulted in protests earlier this month, and ultimately his detention for several days. “They have just made the regulations more detailed, not changed the underlying situation,” she said, adding as long as rural migrants are perceived as second class citizens, they will never be accepted as equals within higher-education: “I bet only 5 per cent of the kids would meet the new requirements.”
While Guandong won’t introduce similar education reforms until 2016, they will not be subject to the same restrictions as students in Beijing and Shanghai. According to the report, Guangdong students will be able to apply to university on an “equal footing with legal residents”. However, as more specifics have yet to be released, it remains unclear as to how equitable Guangdong’s policy will actually be.
First introduced by the Communist Party in 1958 to control the movement of workers from rural to ballooning urban areas, the hukou registration system imposes controls over health care, education, and housing for those workers seeking employment outside of their own geographical region. While reforms were introduced in the 1990’s and again in the early 00’s, the Chinese Ministry of Public Security has justified the continuation of the policy on the basis that densely populated urban centres lack the necessary resources and infrastructure to support the overwhelming influx of rural Chinese that has occurred over the last three decades.