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On 8 October, China announced the latest round of the “Ethnic Minority Enrollment Scheme for Top-Notch Graduate Students”. Five thousand places, including 4 000 at the master’s level and 1 000 at PhD level, have been reserved in the 2011/12 academic year for talented ethnic minority students or those applying to study minority languages and applied sciences related to ethnic minority groups in China. Han Chinese may also apply under the above mentioned conditions, but the enrolment rate for this majority group is capped at 10%. The scheme was originally established in 2006, with steadily rising quotas since that time.
In a similar vein, China added earlier this year a training component for teaching staff to its “Institutional Partnership Scheme for Supporting HEIs in the Western Region”, which was originally launched in 2001. The programme enables teaching staff from higher education institutions in China’s western region to pursue master’s or PhD degrees in more developed institutions in the east. Upon graduation, beneficiaries of the scheme are obliged to return to their home institutions in the west for several more years of professional service.
Both of these initiatives provide evidence that China is stepping up its efforts to bridge the gaps between its eastern and western (i.e., richer and poorer) regions. This is also borne out by the “National Plan for Medium and Long-term Education Reform and Development (2010-2020)” outlined in July 2010. This plan attempts to address the problems of the “craze for choosing top schools” and sets priorities for balanced development and educational quality across the whole of the country. Although the absolute numbers of beneficiaries of the programmes targeted toward ethnic minorities and under-resourced regions are miniscule in relation to the overall population of China, the political symbolism inherent in these efforts is notable. Furthermore, the move to draw highly underrepresented populations into Chinese higher education (particularly at the graduate level) is also interesting in light of the growing efforts to improve access and equity in postsecondary education in many different countries around the world.