New measures seeking to address the falling number of rural students at China's leading universities address symptoms, not root causes.
In the current debate concerning the number of rural students enrolled at leading Chinese universities, it appears that views on the issue, as well as measures to address the questions raised by it, are varied and divisive, respectively.
According to the conclusion of "Quiet Revolution: research on the source of students in Peking University and Suzhou University(1952-2002)" China's educational system and college entrance examination system play a positive role in enrolling more rural students. This is at odds with wider public concerns as to whether rural students really benefit from the existing Chinese educational system.
It is also at odds with some prominent opinions on the subject. Commenting in 2009, Premier Wen Jiabao said: "One thing we should notice is that rural students accounted for 80% or more of all university enrolments when we were at college. Now, though, things are different, and the proportion of rural students at university now is much lower".
This view is supported by research conducted by Professor Liu Yunshan from Peking University's Graduate School of Education. Liu's research shows that from 1978 to 1998, the number of rural students at Peking University accounted for between 20 percent and 40 percent of the total number of students. However, the research found that the proportion started to fall in the mid-1990s, with rural students accounting for between 10 percent and 15 percent at the university from 2000 to date.
Professor Liu's figures differ, then, from the conclusion reached in "Quiet Revolution", and she sees enrolment as a zero-sum game, which means that if universities enroll more urban students, there will be fewer places left for rural students.
Professor Liu's research concurs with the work of Peking University's Professor Li Wensheng, which shows that the proportion of newly-enrolled rural students at Peking University fell to 19.6% in 1996 from 27.3% in 1985, representing a drop of almost 8 percentage points in 10 years.