The Structure of Education in China

Education in China focuses on preparing students for the global job market. Chinese students are considered bright and exceptionally talented, and the education system has an important role to play with regard to this. China recognizes the important role of education in the modernisation process. Adult and post-secondary vocational education are also progressing and developing. Higher education in China is geared towards empowering students to excel in their professions. Strategies such as decentralizing education, stressing on quality assurance and accreditation, and developing various types of higher education institutions are paying off. China is advancing into the future century with confidence due to its well educated and technically strong workers. The education system has played a huge role in accomplishing this.

School education is comprehensive

Pre-school education is provided to children aged between 3 to 5 years. After this, children are enrolled into primary schools. Education is compulsory for the first nine years in China. Some provinces offer 6 years of primary schooling whereas others offer 5 years. This is followed by 3 to 4 years at junior secondary school. Only the academically inclined students progress onto higher secondary and higher education institutions. Secondary education is divided into academic secondary education and specialized/vocational/technical secondary education. In academic secondary education, school curriculum comprises core subjects, electives as well as practical activities. Core subjects studied at the secondary level include liberal studies, English, Chinese and Mathematics.

Students completing senior secondary education appear for final examinations in 9 subjects. Credit system is used at secondary school level along with examinations to make the student academically stronger. Vocational education is offered at three levels namely junior secondary, senior secondary and tertiary levels. Technical schools typically offer programs lasting up to 4 years to train technical personnel. Students who graduate from junior middle school are also trained for positions requiring operation and production skills.

According to the China Education and Research Network affiliated to the Ministry of Education, China has the following number of schools:

  1. Type of School
  2. Total Number
  • Kindergartens
  • 111752
  • Primary Schools
  • 456903
  • Special Schools
  • 1540
  • Secondary Schools
  • 93968
  • Regular secondary schools
    Specialized secondary schools
  • 80067 including 15406 senior and 64661 junior 2593
  • Teacher Training School
  • 430
  • Technical Schools
  • 2523
  • Vocational Schools
  • 7402

There are 5,030,000 teachers at the secondary school level and 5,770,000 full time teachers in primary schools.  The pupil to teacher ratio is 10 in primary schools as per UNESCO estimates.  The government spends 46% of its education budget on secondary education and 25% on primary education. China spends nearly 4.5% of its GDP on education (UNESCO).

Higher education in China is carefully monitored

Universities, research institutes, colleges, medical institutes and military institutions are some of the options for higher education in China. At undergraduate level, there are junior colleges which offer courses lasting 2 to 3 years. These are known as “short cycle” colleges. Some colleges also offer 4 year programs. Diploma programs are available at universities. Attaining a Bachelor’s degree requires 2 to 3 years of additional study following a diploma.

At each stage in the higher education institutions, there is an entrance examination which must be cleared by the student in order to move onto the next level of education. Therefore, students who possess a Bachelor’s degree must pass an entrance examination to reach postgraduate studies. Entry into Ph.D. programs also requires clearing an entrance examination.  Master’s programs are for 2 to 3 years whereas doctoral programs are for the duration of 3 years. Joint master and doctorate programs are also offered by some universities.

There are a total of 2482 higher educational institutions and their affiliated branches in China, according to the Ministry of Education. As per the Ministry’s records, the total number of higher educational institutions can be divided as provided in the following table:

  1. Type of Higher eEducational Institution
  2. Total Number( As of May, 2013)
  • Regular Colleges and Universities
  • 879
  • Junior Colleges
  • 1266
  • Independent Colleges
  • 287
  • Branches
  • 52
The gross enrolment ratio for males in higher educational institutions is 53% while the ratio for female students is 75%, according to the UNESCO Institute of Statistics. The ratio for both genders is 64%. A total of 18% of the educational budget is spent on higher or tertiary education (UNESCO).

Programs in higher education institutions are offered for vocational as well as academic subjects. Chinese higher education institutions include regular colleges or universities, adult colleges or universities and private universities. The length of study for Bachelor’s degree programs is 4 years for subjects other than medicine, engineering and other such topics. While most city universities offer 2 to 3 year long diplomas, some institutions such as Dalian University and Shenyang University also offer 4 year diploma programs. Adult universities include Worker’s universities and correspondence colleges. Adult colleges and universities are managed by the local government.


Higher education offers varied opportunities for students who progress to this level of education. Literacy rates are high in China across gender and region. China has a literacy rate of 99% (UNESCO). Compulsory schooling for at least 9 years ensures that the average Chinese citizen is well informed and educated up to a certain level. For those who are academically talented, colleges and universities offer varied degree programs in subjects like fine arts, physical education, law, science, technology, medicine and engineering.
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