Wang’s intent is to clarify the problems surrounding the Chinese university entrance exam by using Amartya Sen’s model of social exclusion. This is a curious concept, since he is marrying two different disciplines into the same school of thought (poverty studies and educational theory). While his introduction is short (two paragraphs), his background to the problems related to the university entrance examination is extensive, and is necessary to understand the implications of social exclusion when applied to the policies that surround the test. One of the weaknesses of the paper, however, is Wang’s extensive explanations of historical and economic-sociological concepts. Wang tends to focus more on applying previous literature to support his opinion, rather than creating and using verifiable data and individual case studies in order to show credence to a conclusion.
Two specific categories of literature are used to describe the problem of social exclusion in China regarding higher education. The first category of literature is related to social exclusion itself, a concept originated from Amartya Sen in his paper, “Social Exclusion: Concept, Application, and Scrutiny.” (Sen, 2000) In this way, Wang creates a correlation between poverty and education, specifically as Sen relates poverty through his capability theory by using variations of deprivations that people suffer under political and economic systems.
The other category of literature that Wang employs are economic/sociological statistical literature and political documents which outline state power over education and the dissemination of funds for use in education. In this way, Wang is uniquely advocating a participatory approach to his qualitative study. He utilizes few case studies (although his abstract says otherwise), although he does use political documents and statistics to back up his claims about how the structures of power in China are depriving students of the right to free higher education. His goal however, is to turn heads.
Wang primarily makes use of western scholars who are commenting on the concept of social exclusion (Devaney, Weber, Lenoir, Silver, Popay, Levitas, Rawls, Lindblad, Popkewitz, Vizard, Burchardt, Unterhalter, Robeyns, Saito, Jayaraj, and Subramanian), or western scholars commenting on the value of education (Rothschild, Mellor, Klasen, Healy, Slowey, Bradshaw, and Waters). He does use a few Chinese scholars who write about the college entrance examination (Zhang, Chen, Yuan, Yang, Yin, Liu, Xia, Bao, Chan, and Zhou) although the primary source of his information regarding national statistics is the NBSC (National Bureau of Statistics of China, 2008).
When Sen’s capability theory was applied to the Chinese context, Wang noticed several issues which led to the writing of this study. Those issues derive from an aspect of capability theory which deals with societal deprivations. There are four main problems that Wang describes in his study. The first problem is that the system changed from a free system to a user-pay system, which contributes to what Sen calls constitutive deprivation. The second issue that Wang elaborates on is universities in different regions developing differently and altering their recruitment systems based on familial backgrounds of prospective students, which Wang places within Sen’s active deprivation. The third problem that Wang writes about is the disparity between urban and rural populations, which he fits into Sen’s passive deprivation; what Wang also calls “passive exclusion.” Lastly, Wang speaks about Sen’s instrumental deprivation in the Chinese HE system as schools alter their admission policies and discriminate students according to “migrant status,” or according to their “elite status.”
In conclusion, Wang stresses that HE institutional design, rather than enhancing capability, corrals students to specific states and actions. He states that evaluation for admission should not only be limited to “educational input” and “learning outcomes,” but should return to a merit-based system, and move away from what is now a privilege-based system. Wang offers few solutions outside of system-wide and joint state, market and civil efforts, but he does express that if we apply Sen’s capability theory to HE admission in China, we can view the entire issue through a different lens, focusing on the active and instrumental deprivation within the institutional design of the system itself.
Wang, L. (2011) Social exclusion and inequality in higher education in China: A capability perspective. International Journal of Educational Development, 31, 277-286.
Sen, A. (2000) Social Exclusion: Concept, Application, and Scrutiny. Social development Papers, Asia Development Bank, No. 1.