Higher Education in China

I introduced higher education in China in one of the PFP class at Virginia Tech. That was a brief introduction. I was thinking maybe some friends in the class may want to know more and some people out of the class may want to know some of it. There is a book in China written in 2000 years ago named Higher Education (or directly translated into “Great Scholarship”). The highest achievement of scholars is to spread their thoughts all over the world. So here I am to spread my understanding and experience of the higher education in China.

The higher education was there since ancient time. At that time, there was only one (central) institute in this land. The institute served as an advisor to the king. The modern universities started in the last decades of Qing dynasty. After the loss of the Opium War, Chinese government at that time (the Qing government) started to seek for methods to stand against the western world. The first modern (western) university is Called St. John’s University. People can easily sense the religion background. This university was established in 1879. The university I went for undergrad was Nanjing University of Technology (today’s Nanjing Tech) which can be traced back to Sanjiang Normal School (University). Sanjiang Normal School became National Central University during Republic of China time and then breaking into nine universities after 1950. Most of them are still in Nanjing. In 2002, eight universities celebrated their 100-year anniversary in Nanjing. And they can all be traced back to Sanjiang Normal School.

The ordinary way to get into a Chinese university is to go through Gao-Kao (the college entrance exam in China). The score you got in Gao-Kao is like the cash you hold. The score required (the price) for one university can vary based on demand. More students apply for one university, the higher the required score would be. The expected enrolled students’ number is pre-set. But the required score cannot drop to zero. There is a minimum enrollment score set by the government. There is political care for minorities. The minorities can get several extra points when they apply for universities. Education is a competing resource in China. Lower grade students could get a higher grade if they could receive a better education. So giving extra points to minorities is considered fair in China. There are also extraordinary ways to get into a university in China if you are extraordinary students. The universities have a certain power to enroll a certain portion of students without following the standard rules.

Most students’ college life starts with military training. The military training counts for credit hours for a student’s degree. The coaches of the training are mostly junior or senior cadets. Most people think the purpose of this training is not to prepare students for war but to engage them to fit into the new group and train their self-discipline.

Education is traditionally valued high in Chinese communities. We say, “it takes ten years to grow trees; it takes one hundred years to raise people.” I haven’t talked to all these 1.3 billion Chinese people. But from all the people I know, none of them don’t want to receive higher education. Because of the limited education resources, some of them could not. They were diverted to another job friendly route, junior college or so-called career school, after their middle school.

Most universities are public schools, so the tuition is cheap. One year’s tuition including comprehensive fee can usually be paid with a student’s first month’s salary. There are also scholarship and fellowship provided by the government or companies for students with excellent academic standing or financial need. Although tuition is mostly paid by the students’ parents, the student loan is always another alternative.

Since most universities’ budgets come from government funding, a campus is usually expected to be public accessible. Mostly any person can walk into a classroom and audit the class.

Based on the students’ area, they will have to do a thesis or a project to show that they are qualified to graduate. Most universities require students to pass a certain level of College English Test and one computer skill test to be able to apply for degrees.

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