context: Independent enrolment started in 2002 as a pilot reform to offer an alternative to the gaokao system. Under the reform, 22 top universities are able recruit 5 percent of their students independently. Now, 15 years later, some 90 universities have this right, but commentators are disappointed with the gaokao reform and higher education reform’s minimal influence.

The total number of independent enrolment applications in 2018 will exceed 800,000, a 30 percent increase y-o-y, says EEO. Meanwhile, most teaching staff in universities feel conflicted regarding the enrolments’ substantive effect on college education over the past 15 years. Corruption scandals may be the first thing to cross people’s minds when discussing the independent recruitment system exploitation, says Wang Tianding 王天定 Ocean University of China professor.

Independent enrolments represent two reform objectives: enlarging universities’ autonomy in recruiting students and supplementing the college entrance examination system to target students with special talents, says Wang. However, independent enrolments only have ‘symbolic meaning’ in terms of university autonomy because enrolments are limited to a 5 percent quota and are for just a handful of universities and colleges.

Additionally, under current selection models of autonomous enrolment, excellent students with little potential to stand out in the gaokao process are also not likely to be selected during independent recruitment, says Wang. He points out that the solution will be the de-administration of higher education institutions, academic autonomy and an awaking of students’ creativity in education.