BEIJING • China's Education Ministry has had to reassure parents from more affluent parts of the country that new admission quotas will not affect their children's odds of entering a university.
The reassurance came after protests broke out in several cities in Jiangsu and Hubei provinces.
Under the new admission scheme announced late last month, universities in the more developed provinces and big cities will have to take in a larger number of students from less developed regions such as Tibet and Xinjiang starting this year.
The Education Ministry and local governments say the changes are aimed at injecting more equity into an admission process that is fraught with regional inequities.
In a statement issued at the weekend, the Education Ministry sought to assuage the concerns of parents.
It said that the changes will not affect the admission rates of local students.
The local authorities in Jiangsu and Hubei also released statements explaining that overall, the gaokao acceptance rates for local students will rise because the number of test-takers is declining each year.
In China, university admission hinges on the annual college entrance exam, or gaokao, which can be taken only once a year.
Competition is intense as students are assigned universities based on their gaokao scores.
Big cities such as Beijing and Shanghai are home to the country's best schools and usually offer larger gaokao quotas to local residents, compared with students from other cities.
By some estimates, students from Beijing and Shanghai are more than twice as likely to find a place at a top university, reported Hong Kong's South China Morning Post newspaper.
Under the new admission scheme, universities in Hubei province will enrol 40,000 students from less developed regions this year. Jiangsu province will take in 38,000.
The quotas are understood to be significantly larger than those in previous years, according to the China Daily newspaper.
Parents complain that the changes, unveiled weeks before the gaokao, will put their children at a disadvantage compared with those from poorer regions, reported the Global Times newspaper.
Thousands of parents took to the streets in several cities in Jiangsu and Hubei provinces to vent their anger, demanding a U-turn to the affirmative action policies.
Videos and photos posted on social media showed protesters holding banners in the cities of Xuzhou, Yancheng, Taizhou, Changshu and Lianyungan, reported the Wall Street Journal.
"We are not opposed to China offering more chances for children in poor areas, but please don't take away the chance from our own children. It is unfair," a father from Changzhou, in Jiangsu, told the Global Times on Sunday.
His child is taking the gaokao this year.