Higher education in China

Higher education in China

Higher education in China is continuously growing, changing and developing. There are over 2,000 universities and colleges, with more than six million enrollments in total.[1] China has set up a degree system, including Bachelors, Masters and Doctoral degrees that are open to foreign students. The country offers non-degree programs as well.

According to the Ministry of Education of the People's Republic of China, the government authority on all matters pertaining to education and language, higher education in China has played a significant part in economic growth, scientific progress and social development in the country "by bringing up large scale of advanced talents and experts for the construction of socialist modernization."[2]

New trends in Chinese higher education are attracting the attention of educators around the world. Since China began to develop a Western-oriented university model at the end of nineteenth century, Chinese higher education has continued to evolve. Since the late 1980s, tremendous economic development in China has stimulated reforms in higher education that have resulted in remarkable improvements.



The Chinese education system is based on legalist and Confucian ideals. The teaching of Confucius has shaped the overall Chinese mindset for the past 2500 years. But, other outside forces have played a large role in the nation's educational development. The First Opium War of 1840, for example, opened China to the rest of the world. As a result, Chinese intellectuals discovered the numerous western advances in science and technology. This new information greatly impacted the higher education system and curriculum.

Soviet influence in the early 1950s brought all higher education under government leadership. Research was separated from teaching. The government also introduced a central plan for a nationally unified instruction system, i.e. texts, syllabi, etc. The impact of this shift can still be seen today. Chinese higher education continues its struggle with excessive departmentalization, segmentation, and overspecialization in particular.

From 1967 to 1976, China’s Cultural Revolution took another toll on higher education, which was devastated more than any other sector of the country. The enrollment of postsecondary students can be used as example to illustrate the impacts. The number dropped from 674,400 to 47,800. This has had a major impact on education in the 21st century. The decline in educational quality was profound.

In 1977, Deng Xiaoping made the decision of resuming the National Higher Education Entrance Examination (Gao Kao), having profound impact on Chinese higher education in history.

From the 1980s on, Chinese higher education has undergone a series of reforms that have slowly brought improvement.

The government found that schools lacked the flexibility and autonomy to provide education according to the needs of the society. Structural reform of higher education consists of five parts:

  • reforms of education provision
  • management
  • investment
  • recruitment and job-placement
  • inner-institute management.

Management reform is the most difficult.[2]

The reforms aim to provide higher education institutions more autonomy and the ability to better meet the needs of students. Instead of micromanagement, the state aims to provide general planning.

The Provisional Regulations Concerning the Management of Institutions of Higher Learning, promulgated by the State Council in 1986, led to a number of changes in administration and adjusted educational opportunity, direction and content. Reform allowed universities universities and colleges to:

  • choose their own teaching plans and curricula
  • to accept projects from or cooperate with other socialist establishments for scientific research and technical development in setting up "combines" involving teaching, scientific research, and production
  • to suggest appointments and removals of vice presidents and other staff members;
  • to take charge of the distribution of capital construction investment and funds allocated by the state
  • to be responsible for the development of international exchanges by using their own funds.[citation needed]

Reforms picked up the pace in 2000, with the state aiming to complete the reform of 200 universities operating under China's ministries and start 15 university-based scientific technology parks.[3]

Present day

In 2002, there were slightly over 2000 higher education institutions in PRC. Close to 1400 were regular higher education institutions (HEIs). A little more than 600 were higher education institutions for adults. Combined enrollment in 2002 was 11,256,800. Of this close to 40 percent were new recruits. Total graduate student enrolment was 501,000.[2]

In 2005, there were about 4,000 Chinese institutions. Student enrollment increased to 15 million, with rapid growth that is expected to peak in 2008. However, the higher education system does not meet the needs of 85 percent of the college-aged population.[4]

Since 1998, 10 universities have been targeted by the Chinese government to become “world-class” - including Peking and Tsinghua Universities. To achieve that goal, the government promised to increase the educational allocation in the national budget by 1 percent a year for each of the five years following 1998. When CPC General secretary Chinese president Jiang Zemin attended the hundredth anniversary ceremony at Peking University (Beida) in 1998 and the ninetieth anniversary ceremony at Tsinghua University in 2001, he emphasized this ambitious goal of advancing several of China's higher education institutions into the top tier of universities worldwide in the next several decades. In the meantime, China has received educational aid from UNESCO and many other international organizations and sources, including the World Bank, which recently loaned China $14.7 billion for educational development.[5] Since 2007, China has become the sixth largest country in hosting international students. The top ten countries with students studying in China include: Korea, Japan, USA, Vietnam, Thailand, Russia, India, Indonesia, France and Pakistan.[1][2][3] The total number of international students studying in China often range around two hundred thousands.

Only 30 percent of faculty hold postgraduate degrees. This is a consequence of the lack of an academic degree system in China until the 1980s. Recently, internationally-trained scholars have entered the faculty with the goals of both improving quality and strengthening ties to other institutions around the world. The state recognizes the need for more home-grown professors.[4]

In Spring 2007 China planned to conduct a national evaluation of its universities. The results of this evaluation would be used to support the next major planned policy initiative. The last substantial national evaluation of universities was in 1994. That evaluation resulted in the 'massification' of higher ecucation as well as a renewed emphasis on elite institutions.[citation needed]

Degree and Program Offerings

Campus Life

There are some noticeable aspects of campus life in China's universities. Almost all institutions provide food and boarding for students on campus, and consequently a typical student enrolled in a university lives in a dormitory room which she/he shares with from 1 to 7 people, and eats in the dining halls on campus.

Life in universities is regarded by almost all students as the most colorful period in their life, though some may be discontent with the administration or education quality of their universities. Classes in most universities are arranged from early morning (usually 8am) to late evening (usually 10pm), and like in western universities, students select their own class schedule before the beginning of each semester, although an emphasis on major exists in China and a considerable proportion of a student's curriculum design is required by her/his major. Students take more classes than in other countries like the U.S.; it is not rare for an undergraduate in China to take 7 or 8 classes a semester, but this is definitely at the cost of the depth and time of practice for each class. Also, switching majors is still very hard, if not impossible, in many universities in China. Many students tend to consider the university administration in China insufficiently flexible to satisfy the needs of individual students.

The closeness of students as a result of their living environment—especially crowded dormitories and dining halls—has become the hotbed for the flourishing of entertainment culture as well as student organizations of all sorts on China's university campuses. Compared with former generations of university students in mainland China, students nowadays enjoy great freedom and diversity of activities both within and outside their campuses.

Despite this, the lack of independent Student Unions or societies means that there are hardly any student-run facilities, for example bars, concert halls or religious areas. Student protests are unheard of and students' lives are controlled much more tightly by the school authorities, for example having a girlfriend or boyfriend is often forbidden. This makes Chinese students seem much more immature and dependent than western students, but in part reflects the attitude towards youth in Chinese society.

University students in China since the 1990s have in general become more ego-centric, less interested in politics, but much more deeply influenced by consumption culture than students in the 1980s. However, in recent years, volunteer groups and spontaneous student actions of a charitable nature have emerged and developed quickly.

Generally speaking, in recent years, together with the great social diversity and general freedom in China and the economy booming in China's cities, university life has included much more content which however may be also potential distractions to study than ever before: socializing, entertainment, attending internships, to just list a few, and especially the pandemic addiction to computer games and online chatting, which according to some professors in China have led to drop of learning morale as well as study performance in many universities. Also due to the ingrained emphasis on rote learning, many students do not study hard and postpone finishing homework for most part of every semester, and only cram right before the exam weeks. However, undeniably, the new generation university students are also feature by much broader view and perhaps greater critical thinking ability than former university students in China, and they are also more conscious of their own rights in the society and in their universities.

Public vs. Private

It is commonly considered[by whom?] that public universities especially those national ones are better than private universities. Universities in China generally select their students based on students' performances in the National Higher Education Entrance Examination (Gaokao, 高考), the entrance scores required by public universities are typically much higher than those of private universities. However, it is noted that private universities in China have been developing only in recent decades, thus many people can easily regard private universities academically less competitive.


China exhibits a great need for better regulation as well as more academic qualifications, teaching experience, and understanding of social changes and technology. To achieve success, the state realizes that the impacts of the Cultural Revolution on education must be reversed. To this end, top universities now function as centers of excellence that serve as a model for all other institutes. A helpful model involved "twinning" of poorer institutes with model institutes to provide equipment, curricula, and faculty development.

There is also an issue of funding and equity. Although academic praise reforms for moving the higher education sector from a unified, centralized and closed system to one that allows openness and diversification, they understand that decentralization and semi-privatization has led to further inequity in educational opportunity.

Also, there is a concern about the mindset of students produced by Chinese institutions. Cheating is widespread and tolerated, within a reasonable level. Many corporations feel the quality of rote memorization instilled in Chinese students serves as a detriment to creative thinking and the lack of real-world experience during the formative years negatively impacts students' ability to adapt to the global business environment easily. These issues will need to be addressed in the coming years if China aims to continue its drive for excellence.[6]

Impact on Global Higher Education

China's demand for postsecondary education is immense and the country currently cannot keep pace with this compelling need. This means U.S., European and Australian universities can play a significant role by partnering with Chinese universities, aggressively recruiting Chinese students for study in their host countries, increasing the number of students they send to study in China, and adding to their presence on the mainland, either as official foreign campuses or extensions. Australia, Hong Kong, and other Asian countries are already making strides into this market.

Partnering offers a mutual economic benefit, both if scholars choose to stay in the host country or return to the mainland. Most Chinese students who go abroad are among the best and brightest from their home country. Thus, if they choose to stay, they propel the economy of their host country when they take on jobs and establish themselves. If they leave, they take the many contacts and connections they have established, alongside a generally positive perception of their host nation and hosts, with them. This allows for continued economic gain, as scholars can convince their home nations and firms to propel business in a certain direction.[7]


Peking University is the first formally established modern national university of China. It was founded as Imperial Capital University in 1898 as a replacement of the ancient Guozijian (國子監 guózǐjiàn). The first modern institution, Peiyang University, was founded October 2, 1895, in Tianjin. The university changed its name to Tianjin University in 1951 and became one of the leading universities in China. Jiaotong University, the next, was founded in Shanghai in 1896. In the 1950s, a large portion of this university was moved to Xi'an, an ancient capital city in northwest China, and became Xi'an Jiaotong University; the part of the university remaining in Shanghai was renamed Shanghai Jiaotong University.

Tianjin University celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1995, followed by Xi'an Jiaotong and Shanghai Jiaotong Universities in 1996. Other leading universities, such as Zhejiang University (1897), Peking University (1898), and Nanjing University (1902) also recently celebrated their hundredth anniversaries, one after another.[5]

Universities in China

For a more comprehensive list, see List of universities in the People's Republic of China.

See also


  1. ^ Fuzeng, Yu. China: Universities Colleges and Schools. International Education Media.
  2. ^ a b c Ministry of Education of the People's Republic of China. Higher Education in China. Beijing, PRC.
  3. ^ China to Accelerate Higher Education Reform. People's Daily Online. 27 January 2000.
  4. ^ a b Porter, Susan. Higher Education in China: The Next Super Power is Coming of Age. American Council on Education. 2005.
  5. ^ a b Duan, Xin-Ran. Chinese Higher Education Enters a New Era. Academe. Nov/Dec 2003.
  6. ^ Wach Out, India: China is way behind India in the business of outsourced services, but it has now started to catch up. The Economist. 4 May 2006.
  7. ^ Dynes, Robert. UC Foreign Graduate Students: Why A World-Class University Needs the World’s Best Minds. University of California Office of the President. 17 October 2005.

Further reading

External links

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