This year, fewer students want to participate in the three-day annual college entrance exam, which has been seen as the make-or-break benchmark for millions of young people since 1977.
Minister of Education Zhou Ji had predicted that the overall number of applicants would exceed 10 million — last year’s total was 10.5 million — but figures from local governments suggest the number of students taking part may be far fewer.
In Shandong, a provincial economic powerhouse, education officials said they received 100,000 fewer applicants this year than they did in 2008 — a drop of more than 10%.
The country’s most populous province, Henan, will see 29,000 fewer people sit the college entrance exam.
And similar falls were reported in Shanghai municipality and Hebei, Beijing’s neighboring province.
The exam, which was reinstalled in 1977 after it had been scrapped during the ‘cultural revolution’ (1966-76) was initially hailed as a success and one of the first acts of the reform and opening up of China.
In 1977, some 5.7 million people competed for 220,000 college places.
Window of China reports the exam has long been considered a life-changing opportunity for high school students seeking a better education and, in turn, a better job. But the economic crisis has had an impact. ‘Since the financial crisis last year, the grim employment situation has broken the "employment myth" for those with a college degree. Some students changed their minds about getting a good job through higher education. They simply quit from taking the exam)," said an anonymous recruitment officer with the Beijing Institute of Technology.