China's Tibet charging students $400K to have someone else take their college entry exam

Tibet is luring investors from elsewhere in China with a promise to let their children take university entrance exams there in return for an investment of at least $400,000, an unusual move to exploit what is considered an easier scoring system.

With a population that is 90% ethnic Tibetan, the region has one of China’s lowest college entry barriers, a key edge for the millions of students who take the competitive “gaokao” entrance exams each year, hoping to secure lucrative white-collar jobs.

The plan has sparked debate on Chinese social media, however, with some posters arguing it would be unfair to students from the mountainous region, while others supported it.

“What about the enrollment rate of kids born in Tibet?” asked one user on the popular Weibo platform.

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Amid growing concern as the exam approaches in early June, the education ministry issued a notice on Wednesday vowing to crack down on “gaokao migrants”, as students seeking to benefit from such a plan have been dubbed.

University students of Tibet Autonomous Region, China gather wearing caps and gowns to take part in a photo shoot for a government-organized media tour.  (REUTERS/Martin Pollard)

Reuters telephone calls to the Tibet government to seek comment went unanswered.

Finding jobs has become harder as the world’s second-largest economy slows, with the jobless rate hitting a record 21.3% last June among those aged 16 to 24, which includes college students.

Tibet, with a gross domestic product that is less than 2% of the richest province, Guangdong in the south, said this week the qualifying investment of $417,000 would have to stay untouched for five years.

China’s differing college admission criteria can reflect preferential policies meant for ethnic minorities.

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In 2023, a student in Tibet scoring at least 300 out of 750 on the entrance exam would have qualified for an undergraduate place at more than 1,200 universities nationwide.

By comparison, those taking the exam in Beijing would have needed a score of 448.

With qualifying scores partly linked to overall exam performance, an influx of exam takers from provinces with better education resources threatens to drive up Tibet’s minimum scores and hurt regional candidates.

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