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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 also open to foreign students. The country offers non-degree programmes 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] In recent years, China has also became a major destination for international students.[3] As of 2013, China is the most popular country in Asia for international students, and ranks third overall among countries.[3]


  • History 1
  • Present day 2
  • Degree and Programme Offerings 3
  • Public vs. Private 4
  • Challenges 5
  • Impact on Global Higher Education 6
  • Institutions 7
  • Notes 8
  • See also 9
  • References 10
  • Further reading 11
  • External links 12


The traditional 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 departmentalisation, segmentation, and overspecialisation 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—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 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.

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.[4]

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.[5]

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. 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.[6][7][8] 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.[5]

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. Since 2010, in some of the elite institutions, there has been an attempt at introducing some aspects of an American-style liberal arts curriculum for selected students.[9]

Degree and Programme Offerings

Public vs. Private

In China, it is commonly considered that public universities especially those national ones are better than private universities, under great influence by the Soviet Union's higher education system. 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. Graduate unemployment rates are also a growing concern.

There is growing concern about the mindset of students produced by Chinese institutions, where cheating is widespread and tolerated. 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.[10]

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.[11]


Peking University is the first formally established modern national university of China. It was founded as Imperial Capital University (Chinese: 京師大學堂) in 1898 in Beijing as a replacement of the ancient Guozijian (Chinese: 國子監), the national central institute of learning in China's traditional educational system in the past thousands of years.

Meanwhile, Wuhan University also claimed that its predecessor Ziqiang Institute (自強學堂) was the first modern higher education institution in China. On November 29, 1893, Zhang Zhidong submitted his memorial to Guangxu Emperor to request for approval to set up an institution designed for training students specializing in foreign languages, mathematics, science and business. After Ziqiang was founded in Wuchang, not only courses in foreign languages was taught, courses in science (chemical and mining courses starting from 1896) and business (business course starting from the very beginning) were also developed at the school.[12] Later, although the school officially changed its name to Foreign Languages Institute (方言學堂) in 1902, the school still offered courses in science and business.[12] In China, there had been some earlier schools specializing in foreign languages learning, such as Schools of Combined Learning in Beijing (京師同文館, founded in 1862[remark 1]), in Shanghai (上海同文館/上海廣方言館, founded in 1863), and in Guangzhou (廣州同文館), founded in 1864, but few provided courses in other fields, which hardly qualified as modern education institutions. Some argued that Wuhan University can only traced its history back to 1913, when the National Wuchang Higher Normal College (國立武昌高等師範學校) was established, but Wuhan University officially recognized its establishment as in 1893, relying on the abundance of historical documentation and the experts' endorsement.[13] In 1895, Sheng Xuanhuai (Chinese: 盛宣懷) submitted a memorial to Guangxu Emperor to request for approval to set up a modern higher education institution in Tianjin. After approval on October 2, 1895, Peiyang Western Study School (Chinese: 天津北洋西學學堂) was founded by him and American educator Charles Daniel Tenney (Chinese: 丁家立) and later developed to Peiyang University (Chinese: 北洋大學堂). In 1896, Sheng Xuanhuai (Chinese: 盛宣懷) delivered his new memorials to Guangxu Emperor to make suggestion that two official modern higher education institutions should be established in Beijing and Shanghai. In the same year, he founded Nanyang Public School (Chinese: 南洋公學) in Shanghai by an imperial edict issued by Guangxu Emperor. The institution initially included elementary school, secondary school, college, and a normal school. Later the institution changed its name to Jiao Tong University (also known as Chiao Tung University, Chinese: 交通大學). In the 1930s, the university was well known in the world as the "Eastern MIT"[14][15][16] due to its reputation of nurturing top engineers and scientists. In the 1950s, part of this university was moved to Xi'an, an ancient capital city in northwest China, and was established as Xi'an Jiaotong University; the part of the university remaining in Shanghai was renamed Shanghai Jiao Tong University. These two universities have developed independently since then. Tianjin University celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1995, followed by Jiao Tong University (both in Shanghai and Xi'an) in 1996. Other leading universities, such as Zhejiang University (1897), Peking University (1898), Nanjing University (1902), Fudan University (1905),Tongji University (1907) and Tsinghua University (1911) also recently celebrated their hundredth anniversaries, one after another.

  1. ^ In 1902, School of Combined Learning in Beijing was merged with Imperial Capital University, now Peking University. However, Peking University never claims 1862 as its year founded. Neither does Peking University claim the year of establishing the Guozijian, which can date back more than one thousand years. Hunan University, with a similar history with Peking, often traced its history back to a school established in 976 A.D, thus giving this university a thousand years of history. See [1].


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. ^ a b Sheehy, Kelsey (October 8, 2013). "Explore the World's Top Universities".  
  4. ^ China to Accelerate Higher Education Reform. People's Daily Online. 27 January 2000.
  5. ^ a b Porter, Susan. Higher Education in China: The Next Super Power is Coming of Age. American Council on Education. 2005.
  6. ^ "中国成第六大留学目的地 上年外国学生约20万名". Retrieved 2013-11-11. 
  7. ^ "中国成第六大留学目的地[图]—中国教育网_新闻资讯_出国留学". Retrieved 2013-11-11. 
  8. ^ "中国成第六大留学目的地 上年外国学生约20万名". Retrieved 2013-11-11. 
  9. ^ Karin Fischer, "Bucking cultural norms, Asia tries liberal arts" Chronicle of Higher Education February 5, 2012 [2]
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ a b "自强学堂(简介)". Retrieved February 12, 2013. 
  13. ^ "武大回应120年校史有史实依据 校庆活动不会改". 武汉晚报. 2012-12-07. 
  14. ^ [3]
  15. ^ [4]
  16. ^ "践行钱学森教育思想 造就拔尖创新人才_教育视点_求是理论网". Retrieved 2013-11-11. 

Further reading

  • Agelasto Michael and Bob Adamson (eds). Higher Education in Post-Mao China. Hong Kong University Press, 1998. ISBN 962-209-450-3
  • Hayhoe, Ruth . China's Universities and the Open Door. Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 1989. xii, 249 p.p. ISBN 087332501X. On the early stages of reform in higher education.
  • Hayhoe, Ruth. China's Universities, 1895-1995 : A Century of Cultural Conflict. New York: Garland Pub., Garland Reference Library of Social Science, 1996. xxv, 299pp. ISBN 0815318596. The competing models of education before and after 1949.
  • Li Mei . "Cross-border flows of students for higher education: Push–pull factors and motivations of mainland Chinese students in Hong Kong and Macau". Higher Education, 2007
  • Rui Yang. Third Delight: The internationalization of higher education in China. Routledge, 2002.
  • Zha Qiang (Ed.) (2013). Education in China. Educational History, Models, and Initiatives. Gt Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing
  • Zhou Ji, Minister of the Ministry of Education. Higher Education in China. Cengage Learning; 1st edition (July 30, 2005) ISBN 981-254-364-3
  • Higher Education In China - Ministry of Education
  • Higher education in China
  • Higher Education in China: The Next Super Power is Coming of Age
  • Higher Education in China - A Growth Paradox?
  • Higher Education in China in light of massification and demographic change
  • China’s impressive strides in higher education
  • China's bid for world domination
  • China’s higher education transformation and its global implications
  • Higher education in China faces competition
  • China's Vocational Universities. ERIC Digest. by Ding, Anning

External links

  • China Higher Education Network - Higher education reform and development
  • Ministry of Education The People's Republic of China
  • China Higher-education Student Information and Career Center (CHESICC)
  • The China Education Blog - Topical issues blog for China's education sector
  • [5] - Higher Education in China in the light of massification and demographic change
  • University in Turmoil: The Political Economy of Shenzhen University by Michael Agelasto (1998) ISBN 962-86141-1-8
  • Educational Disengagement: Undermining Academic Quality at a Chinese University by Michael Agelasto (1998) ISBN 962-86141-2-6
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