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High School Students more College Choices

China's formidable "gaokao," or the nationwide university entrance exam, is becoming both more important and less important -- a symbol of ever-increasing college choices for young Chinese.

Beginning this year, the University of Sydney is accepting "gaokao" scores from Chinese students, the first of premier Australian universities to do so, giving new international prestige to the Chinese test.

But prestige isn't the most important aspect of this move.

In the past, Chinese students were faced with a dilemma -- either to devote themselves to preparing for the Chinese university entrance exam or for entrance tests recognized by overseas universities.

Few students had the time to prepare for both. As a result, most students had to make a decision early on whether to aim for a college career in China or abroad.

The University of Sydney decision, however, suggests that Chinese students may have more freedom in the future to shift between college strategies.

Even as the University of Sydney decision has given China's "gaokao" more global cachet, however, more and more students are dropping out of the "gaokao" rat race altogether.

In 2009, some 840,000 Chinese students opted out of the university entrance exam. In 2010, the number rose to 1 million. According to the Ministry of Education, most of those who forgo taking the test are planning to study abroad.

In the past, few Chinese undergraduates studied abroad, but now it's relatively common due to the affluence of many Chinese families as well as the eagerness of foreign universities to recruit Chinese students. In addition, perceived flaws in the Chinese education system have also played a role.

Xiong Bingqi, deputy director of the 21st Century Education Research Institute, said the unreasonable curricula, as well as obsolete teaching methods and courses at Chinese universities have prompted more and more high school students to attend foreign universities.

Xiong said, as more foreign universities accept "gaokao" scores, Chinese universities may have to reform in order to attract students.

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