Urbanization may partially explain the fall, as China's urban population exceeded its rural population for the first time in 2011.
However, the main factor at play in contributing to the dwindling number of rural students at top universities is that of an imbalance of educational resources between urban and regional areas.
In terms of the college entrance recruitment system, the phrase ""everyone is equal before the score" would appear to be indisputable. However, this is not actually the case where rural students are concerned.
Because schools in rural areas generally have fewer competent teachers working in a more difficult environment, rural students have, to a certain extent, fallen behind their urban counterparts. As a result, asking rural students to take the same entrance exam, using the same grading standard, as urban students seems deeply inequitable.
In addition, Luo Lizhu Ed.D, found that urban students are 17.2 times more likely to be recommended for admission to top universities than rural students. According to the independent recruitment system, the figure stands at 8.2.
Furthermore, a study conducted by several Tsinghua undergraduate students in 2010 found that almost half of all students enrolled at both Peking University and Tsinghua University, China's top two universities, were from a small number of "super middle schools", known as key schools or experimental schools, in some provinces.
Hainan Province is a good illustration of this phenomenon. Of all students admitted to Peking University from the province, 70 percent are from the same "super middle school". Commenting on the impact of these so-called "super schools", Professor Liu Yunshan said: "The development of 'super schools', which are mainly at city or province level with abundant educational resources, will increase the imbalance of education resources which exists between rural and urban areas."
He continued: As the Matthew Effect explains, this will mean that good students will improve and the less able will fall even further behind, which is to the detriment of rural education in general. Therefore, fewer and fewer rural students are able to achieve high scores."
In order to improve rural students' prospects of gaining admission to China's top-ranked universities, Tsinghua University and Renmin University of China have both adopted new recruitment policies which are favorable to rural students. Such policies include the expansion of the independent recruitment areas to schools at county level and townships.
However, questions have been raised as to just how effective such policies will be. Professor Liu's belief is that the new measures adopted by Tsinghua and Renmin University will merely serve to address symptoms, leaving root causes untouched.