According to an old Chinese saying, a good boy is willing to travel far from home to aspire to a greater career.
Yet this creed is wasted on Shanghai youth whose nostalgia keeps them glued to the city. Every year, only a small proportion of students leave the city to attend universities.
Statistics from the Education and Examination Institute show that only 5,981 of the total 91,235 local students left Shanghai for outside universities last year, a proportion of 6.5 percent.
Most of the students who did step out of the city to attend university did so because they failed to gain admission to local schools. Their only opportunity to pursue college studies was outside Shanghai.
It is no longer unusual for local youth to choose a second-rate university in Shanghai over a first-rate institution in another city.
The "tradition" continued this year. Reviewing application forms filled out by local students who will participate in the college entrance examination this July, one finds that the number of out-of-town university listed as a first choice are scarce.
Although the city has a rule stipulating that all students applying for university list a non-local university on their application forms, an applicant can easily bypass the regulation by placing a non-local selection at the bottom of the list.
Every year, universities fail to attain the number of targeted Shanghai students even when lowering admission standards for local students. Among these schools are famous names like Lanzhou University in Gansu Province and Nankai University in Tianjin Municipality.
Statistics show that last year out-of-town universities came to the city with plans to recruit 6,934 Shanghai students, but only managed to take in 5,981 new students from the city.
This situation has existed in Shanghai for many years, and there is no sign of changes any time soon..
The reluctance of local students to attend out-of-town universities partly has to do with employment pressure, according to Wu Jian, a teacher from the Middle School affiliated with Fudan University, one of the city's best middle schools.
Shanghai, as the leading metropolis in the country, is attracting a great deal talents from outside to work in the city.
Local students have all the more reasons to work here after graduation if they do not have better offers abroad.
"It is quite understandable - the students are getting more pragmatic," he added. "It is different from the past."
Wu recalled that, in the 1960s, students did not hesitate to pursue studies at universities located in inland provinces if they offered better programmes than local universities.
But today, students are not interested in devoting all their efforts to pursue a university education purely for the sake of studying.
"Many of them are employment oriented," Wu said.
Although a regulation exists to allow students who study outside Shanghai to return after graduation with their domicile permit, students are just against the thought of leaving.
"Shanghai is developing so fast, out pacing most other parts of the country. From time-to-time, you will find something new to learn," said Jack Li, a student at the school, whose viewpoint is typical of other local students.
"If I spend four years in an inland province, maybe when I come back, I would be too outdated to find a good job."
Besides, the job fairs targeting university students begin before the end of the term. It can be quite difficult for those who are busy studying outside Shanghai to travel back to attend a job fair. It could have a negative impact of their studies and the travelling costs could be huge.
Compared with local universities, many companies in Shanghai don't know much about colleges outside the city. "It is natural that these employers would have doubts about graduates from those outside universities," Li added.
In his school, the number of students attending universities outside Shanghai is lingering at around 20 each year compared with the number of graduates, which exceeds 400 every year.
Wu said: "A lot are still choosing to stay in Shanghai."
Although the number of students going to these top universities has seen an increase, it is still a bleak market for most less famous non-local universities.
Another force keeping local students at home is doting parents, who prefer children stay in the city.
Ling Hongyuan is one student whose decision has been influenced by his parents.
"I had planned to enter China University of Science and Technology in Anhui Province," Ling said.
"I even managed to get a recommendation form from the university, but my parents strongly opposed it, and later I had to change my target to Fudan University."
Almost all these children are parents' only child, many of them can hardly take care of themselves.
"How can they lead a life in a place far from Shanghai without the help of parents?" said Zhou Zhongming, whose son is entering university this year. And of his son's fifty classmates, only five have decided to go to other cities, however all five have relatives in those cities.
Another problem is parents' prejudice against outside cities.
Many parents of university-aged children experienced the "culture revolution" (1966-76), during which many left to help develop the countryside only to find themselves stuck there for the rest of their life.
Many never got the chance to return to their home town, and those who managed to return experienced a great deal of difficulties.
This has left many of these parents feeling disgusted and distrustful about going to the countryside.
"Although it is a different time now, the complex still prevents them from sending their children outside the city to study in other places," Wu said.
The city is working on developing policies to encourage students to pursue studies outside Shanghai.
Students who choose to pursue studies in remote areas will receive an allowance ranging from 500 yuan to 2,000 yuan ($60-241).
A recent policy states that Shanghai students needn't change their residence registration when studying in universities outside Shanghai, which means that their residence will remain in Shanghai.
About four-fifths students studying in out-of-town universities go to Beijing and Qinghua universities in Beijing.
These Beijing universities, two of the country's best, after experiencing the same fate as other out-of-town universities for years, managed to get preferential policies implemented in Shanghai in 1997, which allows them to recruit earlier than other colleges.
Students who fail to be excepted by these two universities may still apply to other universities.
Such a policy provides a great deal of help to the two leading universities. Due to their good reputation and the good environment of Beijing, top students are including these two universities in their application forms.
(Shanghai Star June 20, 2002)