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English Language Requirement and Educational Inequality: Evidence from 16 Million College Applicants in China

Education and Skills

This paper studies the unintended effect of English language requirement on educational inequality by investigating how the staggered rollout of English listening tests in China’s high-stakes National College Entrance Exam (NCEE) affected the rural-urban gap in college access. Leveraging administrative data covering the universe of NCEE participants between 1999 and 2003, we find that the introduction of English listening tests significantly lowered rural students’ exam score percentile ranks relative to their urban counterparts, resulting in a 30% increase in the rural-urban gap in college access. Our back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest that, as a result of this policy change, more than 54,000 rural students lost college seats to their urban peers between 1999 and 2003, and another 11,000 rural students who elite colleges could have admitted ended up in non-elite colleges, causing them significant future income losses.

wp2059.pdf (3.75 MB)
Hongbin Li
Lingsheng Meng
Kai Mu
Shaoda Wang
Publication Date
February, 2024