From free to fee: Neoliberalising preferential policy measures for minority education in China

in Learning and Teaching
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  • 1 National Museum of Ethnology furnish@hawaii.edu
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In both China and in the United States, policies of 'positive discrimination' were originally intended to lessen educational and economic inequalities, and to provide equal opportunities. As with affirmative action in the American context, China's 'preferential policies' are broad-reaching, but are best known for taking ethnic background into consideration for university admissions. The rhetoric of China's preferential policy discourse has remained surprisingly constant but shifts to a market-economy and incorporation of neoliberal elements have resulted in fee-based reforms that discourage inclusion of poorer students. In addition, as ethnic minority students principally from Western China compete to enter 'self-funded' college preparatory programmes, public funding is being directed towards the achievement of 'world-class' universities overwhelmingly concentrated in Eastern China. In contrast, in the United States, the difficulty of defending affirmative action in the face of a neoliberal climate has resulted in a shift in policy. If in China the policy remains even as the 'rule' has changed (Arno 2009), in contrast, in American institutions the rhetoric has shifted away from affirmative action in favour of diversity but efforts to hold on to the rules that promote equal opportunities remain.