Before the People’s Republic of China was founded in 1949, schools were not properly distributed. Most of the colleges and universities were located in a few big coastal cities, with very few in the hinterland, and none in Inner Mongolia, Ningxia or Qinghai. The Tibet Autonomous Region had neither colleges and universities, nor secondary and primary schools. Today there are 64 colleges and universities in these four regions. Tibet has six postsecondary institutes, seven secondary vocational schools, 117 middle schools and 884 primary schools.
Now, China has the world’s largest number of people receiving formal education. Over 300 million people study in schools of various kinds. Net elementary school enrollment has reached 99.5%; and gross enrollment rates in junior and senior high schools, and higher-learning institutions are, respectively, 98%, 66% and 23%. Nine-year compulsory education is in effect in over 95% of China’s populated areas, with illiteracy in the young and middle-aged population under 4%. Education in China has reached the average levels of middle-income countries.
China’s educational horizons are expanding, with the number of candidates for master’s degree or higher continuing to soar. The education market has skyrocketed; and training and examinations for professional qualifications such as computer and foreign languages are booming. Continuing education is the trend; for the first time, schooling can provide lifelong learning.
Investment in education has increased in recent years, with the proportion of the overall budget allocated to education being raised by over one percentage annually since 1998. Following a Ministry of Education program, the government will set up an educational financing system that matches the public finance system, emphasizing the responsibilities of governments at all levels regarding education funding, and ensuring faster growth of their financial allocations for education compared to regular revenues. The program also expects government education expenditure to expand to 4% of the GDP in as short a period as possible.
For non-compulsory education, China has adopted a shared-cost mechanism, charging tuition at a certain percentage of the cost. To ensure that students from low-income families are able to receive further education, there are scholarships, work-study programs, subsidies, tuition reductions or exemptions, and state loans.
The first law on Promotion of Private Education came into effect on September 1, 2003. The development of private schools has meant an increase in overall education supply and a change in the traditional pattern of only-government funded schools to meet the public’s education needs. In 2007, there were 95,200 private schools of various types and levels, with a total enrollment of 25.83 million, including 295 private schools of higher education and adult colleges. There were also 22,322 private training organizations, offering training to 8.85 million people.
Chinese laws and regulations have defined the right to education for people with disabilities: besides schools foe special education, any disabled children capable of adapting to regular study conditions can enroll in standard elementary and high schools. At present, China has 1,618 schools for special education, with 419,300 students; 1,078 vocational education and training institutes for the disabled and 2,257 standard vocational training institutes, admitting 570,000 people with disability; and 145 secondary vocational institutes with 11,259 such students. Since 1979, more than 30,000 people with disabilities have been enrolled in regular colleges and universities.
Starting 2007, the state has exempted rural students from tuition during the nine-year compulsory education period. The policy also includes provision of free books and accommodation subsidies to impoverished students. This has benefited 150 million students so far. Starting the autumn semester of 2008, urban students are exempt from tuition during their nine-year compulsory education.
The state has allocated special funds to renovate dilapidated buildings of 22,000 rural primary and secondary schools and to construct 7,000 boarding schools. To implement modern distance-learning projects in rural elementary and middle-schools, central and local governments allocated 10 billion yuan for schools in central and western rural regions during 2003 to 2007. With this money, junior high schools in rural areas have been equipped with computer rooms; facilities to receive satellite-transmitted teaching programs have been installed in rural elementary school; and DVD players with complete teaching sets have been supplied to rural elementary teaching centers. Students in 360,000 rural primary and middle schools now enjoy educational resources and IT education similar in quality to urban students.
The state plan to make nine-year compulsory education basically universal and to basically eliminate illiteracy among young and middle-aged adults in the western region has been implemented on schedule.
Project Hope, aimed at financing dropout students in poverty-stricken areas to return to school, establishing schools and improving rural educational conditions, is a social public welfare program, carried out by the China Youth Development Foundation since 1989. Donations to establish Project Hope schools and finance poor students are the two major programs of Project Hope. In 18 years, over 3.5 billion yuan have been raised by Projected Hope to finance more than 2.9 million impoverished students, establish over 13,000 Project Hope schools as well as over 13,000 Hope reading rooms and libraries, and train more than 35,000 rural teachers.
What's more,China is witnessing active cooperation and exchange in education with the rest of the world. Exchange students are a major part of this process, and no other country has more people studying abroad than China. Since 1979, over 1,000,000 Chinese have studied in over 100 countries and regions, of whom nearly 300,000 have returned after finishing their studies. The number of foreign students in China has also increased rapidly. Up to 2010, 249 Confucius institutes and schools have been established in 78 countries and regions. Over 8,000 schools in nearly 100 countries have set Chinese language in their curricula.