China boasts the world’s largest higher education system, with more than three thousand higher education institutions and an average yearly enrollment of more than twenty-five million students. Within its system, there are a variety of types of higher education institutions, including both general and discipline-specific universities, vocational institutes, and adult higher education institutes. Successful passage of the post-secondary National Entrance Examination is typically required for university admission, a process that can be highly competitive.
The country’s system of universities is divided between the central and municipal governments, as well as autonomous regions and municipalities. The typical school year runs on a semester schedule, with the first semester starting in early September and the second starting in mid-February. China’s higher education system is noted for its rigorous curriculum, and students commonly have five-day class schedules.
China’s higher education system is heavily influenced by Western education systems, and features traditional bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degree programs. Students completing a bachelor’s program are expected to finish a graduation thesis, report good academic grades, and finish the associated teaching plan. Those completing a master’s program must pass all exams in subject studies and draft a graduation defense. Graduate students also have the option to attend research institutions. Students completing a doctoral program generally must complete the same requirements within a masters’ program in addition to completing the graduation oral examinations.
The modern implementation of China’s higher education system dates back to the 1980s, though its roots can be traced as far back as the Han Dynasty. According to the British Council, at the time of the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, there were only 205 higher education institutions in the entire country. Of those, 123 were state and provincial universities, with the rest being private or religiously affiliated. Total enrollment was approximately 120,000 students, or one in every ten thousand Chinese citizens. However, as a result of the Soviet Union’s influence on Chinese culture in the 1950s, higher education expanded to include comprehensive universities and specialized institutes for industrial training and development. Structural reforms, including the reintroduction of the National Higher Education Entrance Exam, then followed in 1977 under the rule of Deng Xiaoping.
Seeking to invest in the people’s education, China implemented the 21st Century Education Revitalization Plan in 1999. This led to an annual enrollment increase of 2%, leading to an overall gross enrollment of 30% in 2012. Across the system as a whole, more than 30 million people have enrolled in recent years to pursue a variety of bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degree programs. Rankings also suggest that China is now a popular destination for international students in Asia.