China Country Profile - Education System

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System structure

China has four levels of education: primary school, junior middle school, senior high school (or vocational school) and university or college. State law requires all Chinese children to have nine years of education, so primary school and junior middle school are compulsory. The government funds this period, although more recently the country has started to embrace private education and there are a growing number of private schools at all levels of education. The Chinese state has invested heavily in developing a better education system with the annual budget running to hundreds of billions of Yuan, but many expats choose to send their children to international schools to follow an International Baccalaureate programme. The nine-year compulsory education law does not apply to the children of foreign nationals.

Academic year

Most institutions in China divide the academic year into two semesters, although the length of each changes depending on the dates of the Chinese New Year. Generally, the first semester begins in September and runs until January or February, and the second starts in February or March and ends in July. Some regions, particularly in the rural north, choose to have a longer winter break and shorter summer break because of the extreme winter weather.

Higher education

University level education has developed rapidly in China over the last fifteen to twenty years, and academic achievement is highly prized. The number of higher education institutions has increased drastically, with around 20 million people now attending over 2,000 universities and colleges. Over a hundred institutions carry the National Key University designation, which although no longer an official term, is still considered a mark of real prestige. Historically there was a tendency for Chinese universities to specialise in one area, but recent diversification means that even institutions whose names imply a specialism often have faculties covering completely different academic areas.


Higher education in China is funded through a scholarship and loan system. Institutions are free to set their own course fees, but generally they range from around ¥20,000 (≈£1,900) to ¥60,000 (≈£5,700) per year (source: ). Different scholarships are available to both Chinese students and international students. Although universities have not been state-funded in China since the mid-1980s, there are a number of government initiatives aimed at driving teaching and research excellence, and many institutions obtain additional funding through these schemes.


Chinese universities provide degrees at undergraduate and postgraduate levels, and postgraduate courses are showing particular growth in availability and prestige. The majority of institutions offer taught courses in English and these are popular with both domestic applicants and international students, although over 40,000 international students travel to China to study Chinese language and culture too. Admission to university is assessed by an examination called gaokao.


Research in China is well-funded by the state, with many government grants available. The science and technology sectors are particularly well supported. Information about the major state funds can be found through the website, while funding may also be available through provincial or regional initiatives.

Senior education

Once the nine years of compulsory education are complete, students aged 15 to 18 may undertake an additional three years of studies. This is either vocational training or a more traditional academic curriculum through senior high school. Entry to this level of education is assessed by the zhongkao examination, although the content varies between regions. With competition for university places fierce, senior education is the highest level of education achieved by many Chinese nationals.

Primary and junior education

The nine-year compulsory aspect of Chinese education takes place between the ages of 6 and 15, with six years at primary school and a further three at junior middle school. With over 200 million children enrolled at any one time, the system is vast and in the past it struggled to provide for all children, with rural areas in particular missing out. In order to widen opportunities, China’s government now targets particular groups with different schooling initiatives according to the needs of their province and community.

Preschool and childcare options

Kindergarten is among the most popular forms of preschool education in China. State-run kindergartens usually accept children aged between 3 and 6, while privately-owner equivalents may take younger children as well. Costs of preschool vary hugely and demand is very high, however some employers offer childcare facilities for the children of staff.

Careers in China


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