The Chinese education system is the largest state-run education system in the world. The Compulsory Education Law of China stipulates nine years of government funded compulsory school attendance, which includes six years of primary school and three years of junior high school. After graduating from junior high school, students choose between senior high school and vocational school. Senior high school students also have to choose between a social-science- and a natural-science-orientation. This in turn affects the test categories students later take during the National Higher Education Entrance Examination - an academic examination not unlike the SAT’s in the United States held annually in the People’s Republic of China. The National Higher Education Entrance Examination, or Gaokao, is considered the single most important exam in a student’s entire life as it determines whether they are allowed to go to university. This also shows in the development of per capita expenditure of Chinese households on education, which have tripled over the past decade, rising from 670 yuan in 2000 to 2,381 yuan in 2015.
As of 2017, about 564 international schools were in operation in China. Many international schools in Beijing and Shanghai, in accordance with Chinese law, are only permitted to enroll students having citizenship in areas other than Mainland China. Main reason for this is the mandatory curriculum for students from Mainland China. Schools that do not include this curriculum are not permitted to enroll students Mainland Chinese students.
Since the end of the Cultural Revolution, the education system in China has experienced multiple reforms and was geared towards modernization. Most national investments in that field were focused on higher education, which has resulted in a massive development of education facilities. The number of universities in China increased by 768 between 2005 and 2015. Among the top 20 universities in Asia 2017, ten were from the Greater China area.
Some argue that China’s higher education expansion leads to increased unemployment of college graduates. The unemployment rate for people with a bachelor degree and above increased by more than one percent between 2011 and 2012, even though they still possess a much lower unemployment rate compared to people with a lower education background.
Not unlike many other institutional structures, one is able to witness a strong regional disparity in the education sector of China. Consumer expenditure on education in China's Eastern provinces outweighs those in West China and Central China. The disproportionate number of distinguished universities in East China has been a focal point of discussions on education inequality, as has been the educational discrepancy between urban and rural areas.
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