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Once available only to the wealthy, education in the People's Republic of China has, after decades of remodeling through the changes of time, in theory been made available to all of the public. The current PRC government has a system of 9-year-compulsory education in China.
During the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), higher education in particular suffered tremendous losses; the system was shut down, and a rising generation of college and graduate students, academicians and technicians, professionals and teachers, was lost. The result was a lack of trained talent to meet the needs of society, an irrationally structured higher education system unequal to the needs of the economic and technological boom, and an uneven development in secondary technical and vocational education. In the post-Mao period, PRC's education policy continued to evolve. The pragmatist leadership, under Deng Xiaoping, recognized that to meet the goals of modernization it was necessary to develop science, technology, and intellectual resources and to raise the population's education level. Demands on education—for new technology, information science, and advanced management expertise—were levied as a result of the reform of the economic structure and the emergence of new economic forms. In particular, the PRC needed an educated labor force to feed and provision its one-billion-plus population.
By 1980, achievement was once again accepted as the basis for admission and promotion in education. This fundamental change reflected the critical role of scientific and technical knowledge and professional skills in the Four Modernizations. Also, political activism was no longer regarded as an important measure of individual performance, and even the development of commonly approved political attitudes and political background was secondary to achievement. Education policy promoted expanded enrollments, with the long-term objective of achieving universal primary and secondary education. This policy contrasted with the previous one, which touted increased enrollments for egalitarian reasons. In 1985 the commitment to modernization was reinforced by plans for nine-year compulsory education and for providing good quality higher education.
Deng Xiaoping's far-ranging educational reform policy, which involved all levels of the education system, aimed to narrow the gap between the PRC and other developing countries. A modernized education system was integral to a modernized China. Devolution of educational management from the central to the local level was the means chosen to improve the education system. Centralized authority was not abandoned, however, as evidenced by the creation of the State Education Commission. Academically, the goals of reform were to enhance and universalize elementary and junior middle school education; to increase the number of schools and qualified teachers; and to develop vocational and technical education. A uniform standard for curricula, textbooks, examinations, and teacher qualifications (especially at the middle-school level) was established, and considerable autonomy and variations in and among the autonomous regions, provinces, and special municipalities were allowed. Further, the system of enrollment and job assignment in higher education was changed, and excessive government control over colleges and universities was reduced.
The education system
To provide for its population in mainland China, the PRC has a vast and varied school system. There are preschools, kindergartens, schools for the deaf and blind, key schools (similar to college preparatory schools), primary schools, secondary schools (comprising junior and senior middle schools, secondary agricultural and vocational schools, regular secondary schools, secondary teachers' schools, secondary technical schools, and secondary professional schools), and various institutions of higher learning (consisting of regular colleges and universities, professional colleges, and short-term vocational universities). In terms of access to education, mainland China's system represented a pyramid; because of the scarcity of resources allotted to higher education, student numbers decreased sharply at the higher levels. Although there were dramatic advances in primary education after 1949, achievements in secondary and higher education were not as great.
The Communist Party of China has played a role in managing education since 1949. The party established broad education policies and under Deng Xiaoping, tied improvements in the quality of education to its modernization plan. The party also monitored the government's implementation of its policies at the local level and within educational institutions through its party committees. Party members within educational institutions, who often have a leading management role, are responsible for steering their schools in the direction mandated by party policy.
Compulsory Education Law
The People's Republic of China Compulsory Education Law (中华人民共和国义务教育法), which took effect July 1, 1986, established requirements and deadlines for attaining universal education tailored to local conditions and guaranteed school-age children the right to receive at least nine-year education (six year primary education and three years secondary education). People's congresses at various local levels were, within certain guidelines and according to local conditions, to decide the steps, methods and deadlines for implementing nine-year compulsory education in accordance with the guidelines formulated by the central authorities. The program sought to bring rural areas, which had four to six years of compulsory schooling, into line with their urban counterparts. Education departments were exhorted to train millions of skilled workers for all trades and professions and to offer guidelines, curricula and methods to comply with the reform program and modernization needs.
Provincial-level authorities were to develop plans, enact decrees and rules, distribute funds to counties, and administer directly a few key secondary schools. County authorities were to distribute funds to each township government, which were to make up for any deficiencies. County authorities were to supervise education and teaching and to manage their own senior middle schools, teachers' schools, teachers' in-service training schools, agricultural vocational schools, and exemplary primary and junior middle schools. The remaining schools were to be managed separately by the county and township authorities.
The compulsory education law divided mainland China into three categories:
- cities and economically developed areas in coastal provinces and a small number of developed areas in the hinterland;
- towns and villages with medium development; and
- economically backward areas.
By November 1985, the first category — the larger cities and approximately 20% of the counties (mainly in the more developed coastal and southeastern areas of mainland China) — had achieved universal 9-year education. By 1990, cities, economically-developed areas in coastal provincial-level units and a small number of developed interior areas (approximately 25% of mainland China's population), and areas where junior middle schools were already popularized, were targeted to have universal junior-middle- school education. Education planners envisioned that by the mid-1990s, all workers and staff in coastal areas, inland cities, and moderately developed areas (with a combined population of 300 million to 400 million people) would have either compulsory 9-year or vocational education and that 5% of the people in these areas would have a college education — building a solid intellectual foundation for mainland China. Further, the planners expected that secondary education and university entrants would also increase by the year 2000.
The second category targeted under the 9-year compulsory education law consisted of towns and villages with medium-level development (around 50% of mainland China's population), where universal education was expected to reach the junior-middle-school level by 1995. Technical and higher education was projected to develop at the same rate.
The third category, economically backward (rural) areas (around 25% of mainland China's population), were to popularize basic education without a timetable and at various levels according to local economic development, though the state would "do its best" to support educational development. The state also would assist education in minority nationality areas (see Minority Nationalities , ch. 2). In the past, rural areas, which lacked a standardized and universal primary education system, had produced generations of illiterates; only 60% of their primary school graduates had met established standards.
As a further example of the government's commitment to nine-year compulsory education, in January 1986 the State Council drafted a bill passed at the Fourteenth Session of the Standing Committee of the Sixth National People's Congress that made it illegal for any organization or individual to employ youths before they had completed their nine years of schooling. The bill also authorized free education and subsidies for students whose families had financial difficulties.
"Key schools," shut down during the Cultural Revolution, reappeared in the late 1970s and in the early 1980s, became an integral part of the effort to revive the lapsed education system. Because educational resources were scarce, selected ("key") institutions — usually those with records of past educational accomplishment — were given priority in the assignment of teachers, equipment, and funds. They were also allowed to recruit the best students for special training to compete for admission to top schools at the next level. Key schools constituted only a small percentage of all regular senior middle schools and funneled the best students into the best secondary schools, largely on the basis of entrance scores. In 1980, the greatest resources were allocated to the key schools that would produce the greatest number of college entrants.
In early 1987, efforts had begun to develop the key school from a preparatory school into a vehicle for diffusing improved curricula, materials, and teaching practices to local schools. Moreover, the appropriateness of a key school's role in the nine-year basic education plan was questioned by some officials because key schools favored urban areas and the children of more affluent and better educated parents. In 1985, entrance examinations and the key-school system had already been abolished in Changchun, Shenyang, Shenzhen, Xiamen, and other cities, and education departments in Shanghai and Tianjin were moving to establish a student recommendation system and eliminate key schools. In 1986, the Shanghai Educational Bureau abolished the key junior-middle- school system to ensure "an overall level of education."
The development of primary education, in so vast a country as the PRC, was a formidable accomplishment. In contrast to the 20- percent enrollment rate before 1949, in 1985 about 96% of primary-school-age children were enrolled in approximately 832,300 primary schools (see table 10, Appendix A). This enrollment figure compared favorably with the record figures of the late 1960s and early 1970s, when enrollment standards were more egalitarian. In 1985, the World Bank estimated that enrollments in primary schools would decrease from 136 million in 1983 to 95 million in the late 1990s, and that the decreased enrollment would reduce the number of teachers needed. Qualified teachers, however, would continue to be in demand.
Under the Law on Nine-Year Compulsory Education, primary schools were to be tuition-free and reasonably located for the convenience of children attending them; students would attend primary schools in their neighborhoods or villages. Parents paid a small fee per term for books and other expenses, such as workbooks, transportation, food, and heating. Previously, fees were not considered a deterrent to attendance, although some parents felt even these minor costs (around 20 yuan in the late 1980's) were more than they could afford. Under the education reform, students from poor families received stipends, and state enterprises, institutions and other sectors of society were encouraged to establish their own schools. A major concern was that scarce resources be conserved without causing enrollment to fall and without weakening of the better schools. In particular, local governments were warned not to pursue middle-school education blindly while primary school education was still developing, or to wrest money, teaching staff, and materials from primary schools.
Children usually entered primary school at seven years of age for six days a week, which after regulatory changes in 1995 and 1997 were changed to five and a half and five days, respectively. The two-semester school year consisted of 9.5 months, and began on September 1st and March 1st, with a summer vacation in July and August and a winter vacation in January and February. Urban primary schools typically divided the school week into twenty-four to twenty-seven classes of forty-five minutes each, but in the rural areas, the norm was half-day schooling, more flexible schedules, and itinerant teachers. Most primary schools had a five-year course, except in such cities as Beijing and Shanghai, and later other major cities, which had reintroduced six-year primary schools and accepted children at six and one-half years rather than seven.
The primary-school curriculum consisted of Chinese, Mathematics, Physical Education, Music, Art, and elementary instruction in nature, morals and society, combined with practical work experiences around the school compound. A general knowledge of society and moral training, which stressed love of the motherland, love of the party, and love of the people (and previously love of Chairman Mao), teamwork, repect, and selflessness was another part of the curriculum. Such topics are integrated into more than only one class. A foreign language, often English, was introduced around the third grade, and consisted of very basic vocabulary and conversational language. Chinese and mathematics accounted for about 60% of the scheduled class time, and are considered the "Big-2", being the only two subjects on the final exams; Natural Science and Social Science accounted for about 8%, and dealt with very basic scientific concepts and social occurrences. Mandarin (or Putonghua, "common spoken language") was taught in regular schools and began with pinyin romanization in lower grades and kindergarten. The State Education Commission required that all primary schools offer courses on Communist Ideology and morality. Beginning in the fourth grade, students usually had to perform productive labor two weeks per semester to relate classwork with production experience in workshops or on farms and subordinate it to academic study. Most schools had after-hour activities such as the "backboard newspaper" at least one day per week – often organized by the Young Pioneers – to involve students in recreation and community service. Students are to attend regular Monday assemblies, where a flag-raising ceremony is conducted. Most schools required "morning exercises", where all students assemble in the school field and perform a series of stretches and movements.
By 1980, the percentage of students enrolled in primary schools was high, but the schools reported high dropout rates and regional enrollment gaps (most enrollees were concentrated in the cities). Only one in four counties had universal primary education. On the average, 10% of the students dropped out between each grade. During the 1979-83 period, the government acknowledged the "9-6-3" rule, that is, that nine of ten children began primary school, six completed it, and three graduated with good performance. This meant that only about 60% of primary students actually completed their five year program of study and graduated, and only about 30% were regarded as having primary-level competence. Statistics in the mid-1980s showed that more rural girls than boys dropped out of school.
Within the framework of the Law on Nine-Year Compulsory Education and the general trend toward vocational and technical skills, attempts were made to accommodate and correct the gap between urban and rural education in China. Urban and key schools almost invariably operated on a six day full-time schedule to prepare students for further education and high-level jobs. Rural schools generally operated on a flexible schedule geared to the needs of the agricultural seasons and sought to prepare students for adult life and manual labor in lower-skilled jobs. They also offered a more limited curriculum, often only the Chinese language, mathematics, and morals. To promote attendance and allow the class schedule and academic year to be completed, agricultural seasons were taken into account. School holidays were moved, school days shortened, and full-time, half-time and spare-time classes offered in the slack agricultural seasons. Sometimes itinerant teachers were hired for mountain villages and served one village in the morning, another village in the afternoon.
Rural parents were generally well aware that their children had limited opportunities to further their education. Some parents saw little use in having their children attend even primary school, especially after the establishment of the agricultural responsibility system. Under that system, parents preferred that their children work to increase family income — and withdrew them from school — for both long and short periods of time.
Preschool education, which began at age three and one-half, was another target of education reform in 1985. Preschool facilities were to be established in buildings made available by public enterprises, production teams, municipal authorities, local groups, and families. The government announced that it depended on individual organizations to sponsor their own preschool education and that preschool education was to become a part of the welfare services of various government organizations, institutes, and state- and collectively operated enterprises. Costs for preschool education varied according to services rendered. Officials also called for more preschool teachers with more appropriate training.
The 1985 National Conference on Education also recognized the importance of special education, in the form of programs for gifted children and for slow learners. Gifted children were allowed to skip grades. Slow learners were encouraged to reach minimum standards, although those who did not maintain the pace seldom reached the next stage. For the most part, children with severe learning problems and those with handicaps and psychological needs were the responsibilities of their families. Extra provisions were made for blind and severely hearing-impaired children, although in 1984, special schools enrolled fewer than 2% of all eligible children in those categories. The China Welfare Fund, established in 1984, received state funding and had the right to solicit donations within mainland China and from abroad, but special education remained a low government priority.
Secondary education in mainland China has a complicated history. In the early 1960s, education planners followed a policy called "walking on two legs," which established both regular academic schools and separate technical schools for vocational training. The rapid expansion of secondary education during the Cultural Revolution created serious problems; because resources were spread too thinly, educational quality declined. Further, this expansion was limited to regular secondary schools; technical schools were closed during the Cultural Revolution because they were viewed as an attempt to provide inferior education to children of worker and peasant families.
In the late 1970s, government and party representatives criticized what they termed the "unitary" approach of the [1960s], arguing that it ignored the need for two kinds of graduates: those with an academic education (college preparatory) and those with specialized technical education (vocational). Beginning in 1976, with the renewed emphasis on technical training, technical schools reopened, and their enrollments increased (as did those of key schools, also criticized during the Cultural Revolution).
In the drive to spread vocational and technical education, regular secondary-school enrollments fell. By 1986, universal secondary education was part of the nine year compulsory education law that made primary education (six years) and junior-middle-school education (three years) mandatory. The desire to consolidate existing schools and to improve the quality of key middle schools was, however, under the education reform, more important than expanding enrollment.
Mainland Chinese secondary schools are called middle schools and are divided into junior and senior levels. In 1985, more than 104,000 middle schools (both regular and vocational) enrolled about 51 million students. Junior, or lower, middle schools offered a three year course of study, which students began at twelve years of age. Senior, or upper, middle schools offered a two or three year course, which students began at age fifteen.
The regular secondary-school year usually had two semesters, totaling nine months. In some rural areas, schools operated on a shift schedule to accommodate agricultural cycles. The academic curriculum consisted of the Chinese language, mathematics, physics, chemistry, geology, foreign language, history, geography, politics, physiology, music, fine arts, and physical education. Some middle schools also offered vocational subjects. There were thirty or thirty-one periods a week in addition to self-study and extracurricular activity. Thirty-eight percent of the curriculum at a junior middle school was in Chinese and mathematics, 16% in a foreign language. Fifty percent of the teaching at a senior middle school was in natural sciences and mathematics, 30% in Chinese and a foreign language.
Rural secondary education has undergone several transformations since 1980, when county-level administrative units closed some schools and took over certain schools run by the people's communes (see Glossary). In 1982, the communes were eliminated. In 1985, educational reform legislation officially placed rural secondary schools under local administration. There was a high dropout rate among rural students in general and among secondary students in particular, largely because of parental attitudes. All students, however, especially males, were encouraged to attend secondary school if it would lead to entrance to a college or university (still regarded as prestigious) and escape from village life.
In mainland China, a senior-middle-school graduate is considered an educated person, although middle schools are viewed as a training ground for colleges and universities. And, while middle-school students are offered the prospect of higher education, they are also confronted with the fact that university admission is limited. Middle schools are evaluated in terms of their success in sending graduates on for higher education, although efforts persist to educate young people to take a place in society as valued and skilled members of the work force.
Vocational and Technical Schools
Both regular and vocational secondary schools sought to serve modernization needs. A number of technical and "skilled-worker" training schools reopened after the Cultural Revolution, and an effort was made to provide exposure to vocational subjects in general secondary schools (by offering courses in industry, services, business, and agriculture). By 1985, there were almost 3 million vocational and technical students.
Under the educational reform tenets, polytechnic colleges were to give priority to admitting secondary vocational and technical school graduates and providing on-the-job training for qualified workers. Education reformers continued to press for the conversion of about 50% of upper secondary education into vocational education, which traditionally had been weak in the rural areas. Regular senior middle schools were to be converted into vocational middle schools, and vocational training classes were to be established in some senior middle schools. Diversion of students from academic to technical education was intended to alleviate skill shortages and to reduce the competition for university enrollment.
Although enrollment in technical schools of various kinds had not yet increased enough to compensate for decreasing enrollments in regular senior middle schools, the proportion of vocational and technical students to total senior-middle-school students increased from about 5% in 1978 to almost 36% in 1985, although development was uneven. Further, to encourage greater numbers of junior-middle-school graduates to enter technical schools, vocational and technical school graduates were given priority in job assignments, while other job seekers had to take technical tests.
In 1987 there were four kinds of secondary vocational and technical schools:
- technical schools that offered a four year, post-junior middle course and two- to three-year post-senior middle training in such fields as commerce, legal work, fine arts, and forestry;
- workers' training schools that accepted students whose senior-middle-school education consisted of two years of training in such trades as carpentry and welding;
- vocational technical schools that accepted either junior-or senior-middle-school students for one- to three-year courses in cooking, tailoring, photography, and other services; and
- agricultural middle schools that offered basic subjects and agricultural science.
These technical schools had several hundred different programs. Their narrow specializations had advantages in that they offered in-depth training, and reducing the need for on-the-job training, thereby lowering learning time and costs. Moreover, students were more motivated to study if there were links between training and future jobs. Much of the training could be done at existing enterprises, where staff and equipment was available at little additional cost.
There were some disadvantages to this system, however. Under the Four Modernizations, technically-trained generalists were needed more than highly-specialized technicians. Also, highly-specialized equipment and staff were underused, and there was an overall shortage of specialized facilities to conduct training. In addition, large expenses were incurred in providing the necessary facilities and staff, and the trend in some government technical agencies was toward more general technical and vocational education.
Further, the dropout rate continued to have a negative effect on the labor pool as upper-secondary-school technical students dropped out, and as the percentage of lower-secondary-school graduates entering the labor market without job training increased. Occupational rigidity and the geographic immobility of the population, particularly in rural areas, further limited educational choices.
Although there were 668,000 new polytechnic school enrollments in 1985, the Seventh Five-Year Plan called for annual increases of 2 million mid-level skilled workers and 400,000 senior technicians, indicating that enrollment levels were still far from sufficient. To improve the situation, in July 1986, officials from the State Education Commission, State Planning Commission, and Ministry of Labor and Personnel convened a national conference on developing China's technical and vocational education. It was decided that technical and vocational education in rural areas should accommodate local conditions and be conducted on a short-term basis. Where conditions permitted, emphasis would be placed on organizing technical schools and short-term training classes. To alleviate the shortage of teachers, vocational and technical teachers' colleges were to be reformed and other colleges and universities were to be mobilized for assistance. The State Council decision to improve training for workers who had passed technical examinations (as opposed to unskilled workers) was intended to reinforce the development of vocational and technical schools.
Expanding and improving secondary vocational education has long been an objective of China’s educational reformers, for vocational schools are seen as those which are best place to address (by providing trained workers) the rising needs of the nation’s expanding economy, especially its manufacturing and industrial sectors. Simply put, without an educated and trained work force, China cannot have economic, hence social and national, development. Yet, given a finite, and often quite limited, pot of money for secondary schools, an allocational competition/conflict necessarily exists between its two sub-sectors: general education and vocational/ technical education. Regardless, an over-enrollment in the latter has been the overall result of the mid-1980s reforms. Yet firms that must seek workers from this graduate pool have remained unimpressed with the quality of recruits and have had to rely on their own job-training programs that provide re-education for their newly hired workers. The public, also, has not been very enthusiastic over vocational secondary education which, unlike general education, does not lead to the possibility of higher education. The public’s perception is that these schools provide little more than an dead end for their children. Also, vocational institutions are more expensive to run than their counterparts in general education, and they have not had sufficient money to modernize their facilities, as China’s modernizing national economy demands. By mid-decade of the 21st Century, therefore, academics and policy-makers alike began to question the wisdom of educational policy that pours funds into vocational schools that don’t do their intended job.
Higher education reflects the changes in political policies that have occurred in contemporary China. Since 1949, emphasis has continually been placed on political re-education, and in periods of political upheaval, such as the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, ideology has been stressed over professional or technical competence.
When the early stages of the Cultural Revolution, tens of thousands of college students joined Red Guard (see Glossary) organizations, effectively closing down the higher education system (see The Cultural Revolution Decade , ch. 1). In general, when universities reopened in the early 1970s, enrollments were reduced from pre-Cultural Revolution levels, and admission was restricted to individuals who had been recommended by their work unit (danwei) possessed good political credentials, and had distinguished themselves in manual labor. In the absence of stringent and reasonably objective entrance examinations, political connections became increasingly important in securing the recommendations and political dossiers, necessary to qualify for university admission. As a result, the decline in educational quality was profound. Deng Xiaoping reportedly wrote Mao Zedong in 1975 that university graduates were "not even capable of reading a book" in their own fields when they left the university. University faculty and administrators, moreover, were demoralized by what they faced.
Efforts made in 1975 to improve educational quality were unsuccessful. By 1980, it appeared doubtful that the politically oriented admission criteria had accomplished even the purpose of increasing enrollment of worker and peasant children. Successful candidates for university entrance were usually children of cadres and officials who used personal connections that allowed them to "enter through the back door." Students from officials' families would accept the requisite minimum two year work assignment in the countryside, often in a suburban location that allowed them to remain close to their families. Village cadres, anxious to please the parent-official, gladly recommended these youths for university placement, after the labor requirement had been met. The child of an official family was then on his or her way to a university without having academic ability, a record of political activism, or a distinguished work record.
After 1976, steps were taken to improve educational quality by establishing order and stability, and calling for an end to political contention on university campuses, and expanding university enrollments. This pressure to maintain quality and minimize expenditures led to efforts, both to run existing institutions more efficiently and to develop other college and university programs. As a result, labor colleges for training agro-technicians and factory-run colleges for providing technical education for workers were established. In addition, eighty-eight institutions and key universities were provided with special funding, top students and faculty members, and other support, and they recruited the most academically qualified students, without regard to family background or political activism.
Modernization Goals in the 1980s
The commitment to the Four Modernizations required great advances in science and technology. Under the modernization program, higher education was to be the cornerstone for training and research. Because modernization depended on a vastly increased and improved capability to train scientists and engineers for needed breakthroughs, the renewed concern for higher education and academic quality — and the central role that the sciences were expected to play in the Four Modernizations — highlighted the need for scientific research and training. This concern can be traced to the critical personnel shortages and qualitative deficiencies in the sciences, resulting from the unproductive years of the Cultural Revolution when higher education was shut down. In response to the need for scientific training, the Sixth Plenum of the Twelfth National Party Congress Central Committee, held in September 1986, adopted a resolution on the guiding principles for building a socialist society that strongly emphasized the importance of education and science.
Reformers realized, however, that the higher education system was far from meeting modernization goals and that additional changes were needed. The Provisional Regulations Concerning the Management of Institutions of Higher Learning, promulgated by the State Council in 1986, initiated vast changes in administration and adjusted educational opportunity, direction and content. With the increased independence accorded under the education reform, universities and colleges were able 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; and
- to be responsible for the development of international exchanges by using their own funds.
The changes also allowed the universities to accept financial aid from work units and decide how this money was to be used without asking for more money from departments in charge of education. Further, higher education institutions and work units could sign contracts for the training of students.
Higher education institutions also were assigned a greater role in running inter-regional and inter-departmental schools. Within their state-approved budgets, universities secured more freedom to allocate funds as they saw fit and to use income from tuition and technical and advisory services for their own development, including collective welfare and bonuses.
There also was a renewed interest in television, radio, and correspondence classes. Some of the courses, particularly in the college-run factories, were serious, full-time enterprises, with a two-to three-year curriculum.
Entrance Examinations and Admission Criteria
National examinations to select students for higher education (and positions of leadership) were an important part of China's culture, and now a National College Entrance Examination is held annually for the purpose. Traditionally, entrance to a higher education institution was considered prestigious. Although the examination system for admission to colleges and universities has undergone many changes since the Cultural Revolution, it remains the basis for recruiting academically able students. When higher education institutions were reopened in early 1970s, candidates for entrance examinations had to be senior-middle-school graduates or the equivalent, generally below twenty-six years of age. Work experience requirements were eliminated, but workers and staff members needed permission from their enterprises to take the examinations.
Each provincial-level unit was assigned a quota of students to be admitted to key universities, a second quota of students for regular universities within that administrative division, and a third quota of students from other provinces, autonomous regions, and special municipalities who would be admitted to institutions operated at the provincial level. Provincial-level administrative units selected students with outstanding records to take the examinations.
Additionally, preselection examinations were organized by the provinces, autonomous regions, and special municipalities for potential students (from three to five times the number of places allotted). These candidates were actively encouraged to take the examination to ensure that a sufficient number of good applicants would be available. Cadres with at least two years of work experience were recruited for selected departments in a small number of universities on an experimental basis. Preferential admission treatment (in spite of lower test scores) was given to minority candidates, students from disadvantaged areas, and those who agreed in advance to work in less developed regions after graduation.
In December 1977, when uniform national examinations were reinstated, 5.7 million students took the examinations, although university placement was available for only the 278,000 applicants with the highest scores. In July 1984, about 1.6 million candidates (30,000 fewer than in 1983) took the entrance examinations for the 430,000 places in mainland China's more than 900 colleges and universities. Of the 1.6 million examinees, more than 1 million took the test for placement in science and engineering colleges; 415,000 for places in liberal arts colleges; 88,000 for placement in foreign language institutions; and 15,000 for placement in sports universities and schools. More than 100,000 of the candidates were from national minority groups. A year later, there were approximately 1.8 million students taking the three-day college entrance examination to compete for 560,000 places. Liberal arts candidates were tested on politics, Chinese, mathematics, foreign languages, history, and geography. Science and engineering candidates were tested on politics, the Chinese language, mathematics, chemistry, and biology. Entrance examinations also were given in 1985 for professional and technical schools, which sought to enroll 550,000 new students.
Other innovations in enrollment practices included allowing colleges and universities to admit students with good academic records but relatively low entrance-examination scores. Some colleges were allowed to try an experimental student recommendation system — fixed at 2% of the total enrollment for regular colleges, and 5% for teachers' colleges — instead of the traditional entrance examination. A minimum national examination score was established for admission to specific departments at specially designated colleges and universities, and the minimum score for admission to other universities was set by provincial level authorities. Key universities established separate classes for minorities. When several applicants attained the minimum test score, the school had the option of making a selection, a policy that gave university faculty and administrators a certain amount of discretion but still protected admission according to academic ability.
In addition to the written examination, university applicants had to pass a physical examination and a political screening. Less than 2% of the students who passed the written test were eliminated for reasons of poor health. The number disqualified for political reasons was known but publicly, the party maintained that the number was very small and that it sought to ensure that only the most able students actually entered colleges and universities.
By 1985, the number of institutions of higher learning had again increased — to slightly more than 1,000. The State Education Commission and the Ministry of Finance issued a joint declaration for nationwide unified enrollment of adult students — not the regular secondary-school graduates, but the members of the work force who qualified for admission by taking a test.
The State Education Commission established unified questions and time and evaluation criteria for the test and authorized provinces, autonomous regions, and special municipalities to administer the test, grade the papers in a uniform manner, and determine the minimum points required for admission. The various schools were to enroll students according to the results. Adult students needed to have the educational equivalent of senior-middle- school graduates, and those applying for release or partial release from work to study were to be under forty years of age. Staff members and workers were to apply to study job-related subjects with review by and approval of their respective work units. If employers paid for the college courses, the workers had to take entrance examinations. In 1985, colleges enrolled 33,000 employees from various enterprises and companies, approximately 6% of the total college enrollment.
In 1985, state quotas for university places were set, allowing both for students sponsored by institutions and for those paying their own expenses. This policy was a change from the previous system in which all students were enrolled according to guidelines established in Beijing. All students, except those at teachers' colleges, those who had financial difficulties, and those who were to work under adverse conditions after graduation, had to pay for their own tuition, accommodation and miscellaneous expenses.
Changes in Enrollment and Assignment Policies
The student enrollment and graduate assignment system also was changed to reflect, more closely, the personnel needs of modernization. By 1986, the state was responsible for drafting the enrollment plan, which took into account future personnel demands, the need to recruit students from outlying regions, and the needs of trades and professions with adverse working conditions. Moreover, a certain number of graduates to be trained for the People's Liberation Army were included in the state enrollment plan. In most cases, enrollment in higher education institutions, at the employers' request, was extended as a supplement to the state student enrollment plan. Employers were to pay a percentage of training fees, and students were to fulfill contractual obligations to the employers after graduation. The small number of students who attended colleges and universities at their own expense could be enrolled, in addition to those in the state plan.
Accompanying the changes in enrollment practices were reforms, adopted in 1986, in the faculty appointment system, which ended the "iron rice bowl" (see Glossary) employment system, and gave colleges and universities freedom to decide what departments, majors, and numbers of teachers they needed. Teachers in institutions of higher learning were hired on a renewable contract basis, usually for two to four years at a time. The teaching positions available on this basis were teaching assistant, lecturer, associate professor, and professor. The system was tested in eight major universities in Beijing and Shanghai before it was instituted nationwide at the end of 1985. University presidents headed groups in charge of appointing professors, lecturers, and teaching assistants according to their academic levels and teaching abilities, and a more rational wage system, geared to different job levels, was inaugurated. Universities and colleges with surplus professors and researchers were advised to grant them appropriate academic titles and encourage them to work for their current pay in schools of higher learning where they were needed. The new system was to be extended to schools of all kinds and other education departments within two years.
Under the 1985 reforms, all graduates were assigned jobs by the state; a central government placement agency told the schools where to send graduates. By 1985, Tsinghua University and a few other universities were experimenting with a system that allowed graduates to accept job offers or to look for their own positions. For example, of 1,900 Tsinghua University graduates in 1985, 1,200 went on to graduate school, 48 looked for their own jobs, and the remainder were assigned jobs by the school after consultation with the students. The college students and postgraduates, scheduled to graduate in 1986, were assigned primarily to work in forestry, education, textiles, and the armaments industry. Graduates still were needed in civil engineering, computer science, finance, and English.
Scholarship and Loan System
In July 1986, the State Council announced that the stipend system for university and college students would be replaced with a new scholarship and loan system. The new system, to be tested in selected institutions during the 1986-87 academic year, was designed to help students who could not cover their own living expenses, but who studied hard, obeyed state laws, and observed discipline codes. Students eligible for financial aid were to apply to the schools and the China Industrial and Commercial Bank for low-interest loans. Three categories of students eligible for aid were established:
- top students encouraged to attain all-around excellence;
- students specializing in education, agriculture, forestry, sports, and marine navigation; and
- students willing to work in poor, remote, and border regions or under harsh conditions, such as in mining and engineering.
In addition, free tuition and board were to be offered at teachers' colleges, and the graduates were required to teach at least five years in primary and middle schools. After graduation, a student's loans were to be paid off by his or her employer in a lump sum, and the money was to be repaid to the employer by the student through five years of payroll deductions.
In addition to loans, another means of raising educational quality, particularly in science, was to send students abroad to study. A large number of mainland Chinese students studied in the Soviet Union before educational links and other cooperative programs with the Soviet Union were severed in the late 1950s. In the 1960s and 1970s, the PRC continued to send a small number of students abroad, primarily to European universities. In October 1978, mainland Chinese students began to arrive in the United States; their numbers accelerated after normalization of relations between the two countries in January 1979, a policy consistent with modernization needs. Although figures vary, more than 36,000 students, including 7,000 self-supporting students (those who paid their own way, received scholarships from host institutions, or received help from relatives and "foreign friends"), studied in 14 countries between 1978 and 1984. Of this total, 78% were technical personnel sent abroad for advanced study. As of mid-1986, there were 15,000 mainland Chinese scholars and graduates in American universities, compared with the total of 19,000 scholars sent between 1979 and 1983.
Mainland Chinese students sent to the United States generally were not typical undergraduates or graduate students but were mid-career scientists, often thirty-five to forty-five years of age, seeking advanced training in their areas of specialization. Often they were individuals of exceptional ability who occupied responsible positions in Chinese universities and research institutions. Fewer than 15% of the earliest arrivals were degree candidates. Nearly all the visiting scholars were in scientific fields.
Many of the problems that had hindered higher educational development in the past continued in 1987. Funding remained a major problem because science and technology study and research and study abroad were expensive. Because education was competing with other modernization programs, capital was critically short. Another concern was whether or not the mainland Chinese economy was sufficiently advanced to make efficient use of the highly trained technical personnel it planned to educate. For example, some observers believed that it would be more realistic to train a literate work force of low-level technicians instead of research scientists. Moreover, it was feared that using an examination to recruit the most able students might advance people who were merely good at taking examinations. Educational reforms also made some people uncomfortable by criticizing the traditional practice of rote memorization and promoting innovative teaching and study methods.
The prestige associated with higher education caused a demand for it. But many qualified youths were unable to attend colleges and universities because the PRC could not finance enough university places for them. To help meet the demand and to educate a highly trained, specialized work force, the PRC established alternate forms of higher education — such as spare-time, part-time, and radio and television universities.
The PRC cannot afford a heavy investment, either ideologically or financially, in the education of a few students. Since 1978, PRC leaders have modified the policy of concentrating education resources at the university level, which although designed to facilitate modernization, conflicted directly with the party's principles. The policies that produced an educated elite also siphoned off resources that might have been used to accomplish the compulsory nine year education more speedily and to equalize educational opportunities in the city and the countryside. The policy of key schools has been modified over the years. Nevertheless, PRC leaders believe an educated elite is necessary to reach modernization goals.
Chinese Higher Education in the 21st Century
Two years before the dawn of the 21st Century the Chinese government proposed an ambitious plan intended to expand university enrollment to ensure a greater output of professional and specialized graduates. An adjunct to the plan aimed to develop an elite of world class universities. Restructuring, through consolidations, mergers and shifts among the authorities which supervise institutions, was aimed at addressing the problems of small size and low efficiency. Higher vocational education was also restructured, and there was a general tendency there to emphasize elite institutions. This rapid expansion of mass higher education has resulted in not only a strain in teaching resources but also in higher unemployment rates among graduates. The creation of private universities, not under governmental control, remains slow and its future uncertain. The restructuring of higher education, in the words of one academic “has created a clearly escalating stratification pattern among institutions, stratified by geography, source of funding, administrative unit, as well as by functional category (e.g., comprehensive, law, medical, etc.).” Thus, although recent reform has arguably improved over-all educational quality, they have created new, different issues of equity and efficiency that will need to be addressed as the century proceeds.
In the spring 2007 China will conduct a national evaluation of its universities. The results of this evaluation will be used to support the next major planned policy initiative. The last substantial national evaluation of universities, which was undertaken in 1994, resulted in the 'massification' of higher ecucation as well as a renewed emphasis on elite institutions.  Academics praise the fin du siècle reforms for budging China's higher education from a unified, centralized, closed and static system into one characterized by more diversification, decentralization, openness and dynamism, stimulating the involvement of local governments and other non-state sectors. At the same time they note that this decentralization and marketization has lead to further inequality in educational opportunity.
Among the most pressing problems facing education reformers was the scarcity of qualified teachers, which has led to a serious stunting of educational development. In 1986, there were about 8 million primary- and middle-school teachers in mainland China, but many lacked professional training. Estimates indicated that in order to meet the goals of the Seventh Five-Year Plan and realize compulsory 9-year education, the system needed 1 million new teachers for primary schools, 750,000 new teachers for junior middle schools, and 300,000 new teachers for senior middle schools. Estimates suggested, however, that the demand for teachers would drop in the late 1990s because of an anticipated decrease in primary-school enrollments.
To cope with the shortage of qualified teachers, the State Education Commission decreed in 1985 that senior-middle-school teachers should be graduates with two years' training in professional institutes and that primary-school teachers should be graduates of secondary schools. To improve teacher quality, the commission established full-time and part-time (the latter preferred because it was less costly) in-service training programs. Primary-school and preschool in-service teacher training programs devoted 84% of the time to subject teaching, 6% to pedagogy and psychology, and 10% to teaching methods. Inservice training for primary-school teachers was designed to raise them to a level of approximately two years' post-secondary study, with the goal of qualifying most primary-school teachers by 1990. Secondary-school in-service teacher training was based on a unified model, tailored to meet local conditions, and offered on a spare-time basis. Ninety-five percent of its curricula was devoted to subject teaching, 2 to 3% to pedagogy and psychology, and 2 to 3% to teaching methods. There was no similar large-scale in-service effort for technical and vocational teachers, most of whom worked for enterprises and local authorities.
By 1985, there were more than 1,000 teacher training schools — an indispensable tool in the effort to solve the acute shortage of qualified teachers. These schools, however, were unable to supply the number of teachers needed to attain modernization goals through 1990. Although a considerable number of students graduated as qualified teachers from institutions of higher learning, the relatively low social status and salary levels of teachers hampered recruitment, and not all of the graduates of teachers' colleges became teachers. To attract more teachers, the PRC tried to make teaching a more desirable and respected profession. To this end, the government designated September 10 as Teachers' Day, granted teachers pay raises, and made teachers' colleges tuition free. To further arrest the teacher shortage, in 1986 the central government sent teachers to underdeveloped regions to train local schoolteachers.
Because urban teachers continued to earn more than their rural counterparts and because academic standards in the countryside had dropped, it remained difficult to recruit teachers for rural areas. Teachers in rural areas also had production responsibilities for their plots of land, which took time from their teaching. Rural primary teachers needed to supplement their pay by farming because most were paid by the relatively poor local communities rather than by the state.
Role in Modernization
Because only 4% of the nation's middle-school graduates are admitted to universities, the PRC has found it necessary to develop other ways of meeting the demand for education. Adult education has become increasingly important in helping mainland China meet its modernization goals. Adult, or "non-formal," education is an alternative form of higher education that encompasses radio, television, and correspondence universities, spare-time and part-time universities, factory-run universities for staff and workers, and county-run universities for peasants, many operating primarily during students' off-work hours. These alternative forms of education are economical. They seek to educate both the "delayed generation" those who lost educational opportunities during the Cultural Revolution and to raise the cultural, scientific, and general education levels of workers on the job.
Colleges have been established by government departments, businesses, trade unions, academic societies, democratic parties (see Glossary), and other organizations. In 1984, about 70% of China's factories and enterprises supported their own part-time classes, which often were referred to as workers' colleges. In Beijing alone, more than ninety adult-education schools with night schools enrolled tens of thousands of students. More than 20,000 of these students graduated annually from evening universities, workers' colleges, television universities, and correspondence schools more than twice the number graduating from regular colleges and universities. The government spent -Y200 (for value of the yuan, see Glossary) to -Y500 per adult education student and at least -Y1,000 per regular university student. In 1984, approximately 1.3 million students enrolled in television, correspondence and evening universities, about a 30% increase over 1983.
Spare-time education for workers and peasants and literacy classes for the entire adult population were other components of basic education. Spare-time education included a very broad range of educational activities at all levels. Most spare-time schools were sponsored by factories and run for their own workers; they provided fairly elementary education, as well as courses to upgrade technical skills. Most were on-the-job training and retraining courses, a normal part of any industrial system. These schools continually received publicity in the domestic media as a symbol of social justice, but it was unclear whether they received adequate resources to achieve this end.
Mainland China's educational television system began in 1960 but was suspended during the Cultural Revolution in 1966. In 1979, the Central Radio and Television University was established in Beijing with branches in twenty-eight provincial-level universities. Many Central Radio and Television University students are recent senior-middle-school graduates who scored just below the cut-off point for admission to conventional colleges and universities. Full-time (who take four courses) and part-time students (two courses) have at least two years' work experience, and they return to their jobs after graduation. Spare-time students (one course) study after work. Students, whose work units grant them permission to study in a television university, are paid their normal wages; expenses for most of their books and other educational materials are paid for by the state. A typical Central Radio and Television University student spends up to six hours a day over a three-year period, watching lectures on videotapes produced by some of the best teachers in mainland China. These lectures are augmented by face-to-face tutoring by local instructors and approximately four hours of homework each evening. The major problem with the system is that there are too few television sets.
In 1987, the Central Television and Radio University had its programs produced, transmitted and financed by the Ministry of Radio, Cinema, and Television (see Telecommunications Services , ch. 8). The State Education Commission developed its curriculum and distributed its printed support materials. Curriculum included both basic, general-purpose courses in science and technology and more specialized courses. Programs in English-language instruction were particularly popular. The Central Television and Radio University offered more than 1,000 classes in Beijing and its suburbs and 14 majors in 2- to 3-year courses through 56 working centers. Students who passed the final examinations were given certificates, entitling them to the same level of remuneration as graduates of regular, full-time colleges and universities. The state gave certain allowances to students awaiting jobs during their training period.
Literacy and Language Reform
The continuing campaigns to eradicate illiteracy also were a part of basic education. PRC government statistics indicated that of a total population of nearly 1.1 billion in 1985, about 230 million people were illiterate or semi-literate. The difficulty of mastering written Chinese makes raising the literacy rate particularly difficult. In general, language reform was intended to make written and spoken Chinese easier to learn, which in turn would foster both literacy and linguistic unity and serve as a foundation for a simpler written language. In 1951, the party issued a directive that inaugurated a three-part plan for language reform. The plan sought to establish universal comprehension of a standardized common language, simplify written characters, and introduce, where possible, romanized forms based on the Latin alphabet. In 1956, putonghua was introduced as the language of instruction in schools and in the national broadcast media, and by 1977, it was in use throughout mainland China, particularly in the government and party, and in education. Although in 1987, the government continued to endorse the goal of universalizing putonghua, hundreds of regional and local dialects continued to be spoken, complicating inter-regional communication.
A second language reform required the simplification of ideographs because ideographs with fewer strokes are easier to learn. In 1964 the Committee for Reforming the Chinese Written Language released an official list of 2,238 simplified characters most basic to the language. Simplification made literacy easier, although people taught only in simplified characters were cut off from the wealth of Chinese literature written in traditional characters. Any idea of replacing ideographic script with romanized script was soon abandoned, however, by government and education leaders.
A third area of change involved the proposal to use the pinyin romanization system more widely. Pinyin (first approved by the National People's Congress in 1958) was encouraged primarily to facilitate the spread of putonghua in regions where other dialects and languages are spoken. By the mid-1980s, however, the use of pinyin was not as widespread as the use of putonghua.
Retaining literacy was as much a problem as acquiring it, particularly among the rural population. Literacy rates declined between 1966 and 1976. Political disorder may have contributed to the decline, but the basic problem was that the many Chinese ideographs can be mastered only through rote learning and are often forgotten because of disuse.
- List of universities in Mainland China
- National College Entrance Examination
- Education in the Republic of China
- Education in Hong Kong
- Education in Macau
- Imperial examination
- Culture of China
- Science and technology in China
- History of Chinese Education
- Scouting in China
- Geoff Dyer and Khozem Merchant. "Graduate shortage 'may hinder Chinese economy.'" Oct 6, 2005. FT.com.
- China Luring Scholars to Make Universities Great, The New York Times, October 28, 2005
- M. Agelasto. 2001. University in Turmoil: The Political Economy of Shenzhen University ISBN 962 86141 18 Hong Kong.
- M. Agelasto. 2001. Educational Disengagement: Undermining Academic Quality at a Chinese University ISBN 962 86141 26 Hong Kong.
- M. Agelasto & B. Adamson. 1998. Higher Education in Post-Mao China. ISBN 962 2094503 Hong Kong: University of Hong Kong Press, 490 pp.
- Cunzhen Yang & Trevor Gale, "Policy Analysis: On Chinese Higher Education Entry Policy" (2004), 
- Rui Yang, "Internationalising Chinese Higher Education: A Case Study of One Major Comprehensive University" nd 
- Yu ZHANG, "Private Education in China: Issues and Prospects," Perspectives, Volume 4, No. 4, Dec. 31, 2003. 
- Chan, Lai, "Marketization of higher education in China : implications for national development," dissertation University of Hong Kong, 2001 
- Lai, Fung-yi, "Marketization of higher education : a case study of Guangzhou, China," dissertation University of Hongkong, 2001, re. South China University of Technology 
- ^ Authority bans Shanghai school vaunting traditional Chinese teaching methods, Xinhua via People's Daily
- ^ Jin XIAO, "China’s Educational Reform in Transition: Is it Transforming?" Chinese University of Hong Kong, unpublished paper, 2007.
- ^ Rui Yang, "Chapter 8. TOWARD MASSIFICATION: HIGHER EDUCATION DEVELOPMENT IN THE PEOPLES REPUBLIC OF CHINA SINCE 1949," in J.C. Smart (ed.), Higher Education: Handbook of Theory and Research, 2004, Vol. XIX, 311–374. 
- ^ King-lun Ngok & Michael H. Lee, "Localization of Higher Education and Its Social Consequences in Mainland China, 1993-2006" 
Categories: Education in China | People's Republic of China