Invest in Tibet and give your child a leg up on college exams

But Tibetans fear that the Chinese offer will deprive Tibetan youth of opportunities
By Kitty Wang for RFA Mandarin and by Tenzin Dickyi, Pelbar and Tenzin Pema for RFA Tibetan
2024.03.27
Invest in Tibet and give your child a leg up on college exams Graduates of the College of Science of Tibet University gather to pose for a group photo at the base of the Potala Palace in Lhasa in western China's Tibet Autonomous Region, June 1, 2021.
Mark Schiefelbein/AP

UPDATED  at 7:22 P.M. ET on 03-27-2024

To lure more investment to Tibet, Chinese authorities have announced a sweetener to would-be investors: Move your family to the region, spend three years there and invest 3 million yuan (US$415,000) – and your teenage children will have a better chance of gaining entry to a good university.

Every June, millions of Chinese high school students take the grueling “gaokao” college entrance exams, but the admissions scores to the country’s 1,200 universities vary among the provinces according to the number of their inhabitants.

Residents of Beijing and Shanghai face the stiffest competition. But Tibet offers its students one of the lowest college entry barriers via preferential conditions meant to give ethnic Tibetans an advantage.

For example, a student in Tibet who scored at least 300 points out of 750 on the exam would have qualified to get into most universities, but those taking the exam in Beijing would have needed a score of 448 to enter the same schools, said Frank Lehberger, a senior research fellow at the Usanas Foundation, an Indian think tank.

Chinese parents have picked up on this discrepancy and some have become “gaokao” migrants, moving part or all the family to more advantageous locations just so their children would have an easier time getting into university.

“This rationale entices many Chinese families to migrate to places with low population and high preferential ‘affirmative action programs,’” Lehberger said.

The Ministry of Education has ordered local governments to crack down on gaming the system in this way, but this offer from Tibet contradicts that and appears to have the authorities’ blessing.

Desperate for investment

The decision, announced March 18 by the Tibet Autonomous Region Education Department, comes amid a slumping economy, with a rising jobless rate for young people, and cash-strapped provincial governments are keen to attract investment after three years of draconian pandemic restrictions.

According to the specialist taxation website shui5.com, the terms are only being offered to the children of owners or shareholders of a company entering the Tibet Autonomous Region under the local government's investment promotion program.

1_ENG_CHN_GamingGaokao_03252024.2.JPG
Parents wait for students outside a test site for China’s national college entrance exam, in Lhasa, in western China's Tibet Autonomous Region, June 7, 2023. (Jiang Fan/Xinhua via Getty Images)

The offer will be extended to those who have made an initial investment of at least 3 million yuan, and they can't withdraw capital or shares from the business for at least five years, according to the announcement.

The students must also have been enrolled in a school in Tibet for at least three years – so this is a significant time commitment.

The aim of the offer is to "further optimize the business environment in our region ... and the high-quality development of the plateau economy," said the announcement on shui5.com.

Stirring controversy

The move has sparked debate on Chinese social media, with some posters arguing it would be unfair to students from the mountainous region and others supporting it.

The weightings are calculated based on past regional performance, which means that if students from better-resourced regions of China start going to Tibet, they could push up the score threshold for everyone, including Tibetans.

Tibetans and rights groups warn that the program will deprive Tibetan students of educational and job opportunities and worsen unemployment among them. 

“This recent development will further rob Tibetan students of opportunities,” a source in Tibet’s capital of Lhasa told Radio Free Asia.

The Chinese government has adopted educational policies to help Tibetans, but they have benefited Chinese officials and investors who move there, he said. 

Because the Chinese government perceives Tibetans as less developed and economically disadvantaged, it provides special conditions for Tibetan students to pursue higher education, said Bhuchung Tsering, head of the research and monitoring unit at the International Campaign for Tibet in Washington.

“However, with the current situation where anyone with the financial means can secure a spot, I believe this policy is being exploited and misused,” Tsering said.

Strict requirements

But Xiong Bingqi, director of the 21st Century Education Research Institute, was quoted in the China Daily as saying that while people may worry that the policy will favor rich people and lead to education inequality, the strict requirements of the policy mean only those who are really committed to long-term investment in the region can enjoy it.

The key is to crack down on any people or organization faking documents and close any loopholes, he said.

An official at the Chinese Embassy in Washington said they were not familiar with the program in question. But the spokesperson said that Tibet's economy is "booming, the society is harmonious and stable, its cultural traditions have been protected and promoted, and a modern education system adapted to local needs have been built."

The official went on to say that all ethnic groups in Tibet have the right to "equally enjoy high-quality education," which has helped improve the cultural standards of the people and enhanced ethnic and national unity.

Despite what the official said, the move does seem to suggest that regional Chinese governments face financial woes, experts said. 

“This ‘investment scheme’ smacks of desperation, betraying the deep financial troubles that the TAR government and bureaucracy finds itself in,” said Lehberger, who has worked for many years in Tibet. 

He said he strongly doubts the measure will attract many affluent Han Chinese because 90% of that group wants to leave China altogether. 

The move also highlights the lack of tangible development in the region, said Sriparna Pathak, associate professor of China studies at the O.P. Jindal Global University in Haryana, India, and a former consultant at India’s foreign ministry.

“Despite the severe lack of development in Tibet and the wiping out of the Tibetan language, identity and culture by the Chinese Communist Party state, the attempt still is to show Tibet as a shining example of development as is seen in all Chinese propaganda on Tibet,” she said.

“However, the latest move to lure investors clearly shows how badly so-called development efforts of the Chinese Communist Party state have failed,” she said.

Translated by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Roseanne Gerin and Malcolm Foster.

Updates with comment from Chinese Embassy spokesperson.

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