7 minute read


Administration, Finance, & Educational Research

The educational system is almost entirely centralized in China. The first National Ministry of Education (MOE) was founded in 1952 and patterned closely on its Soviet counterpart. It experienced reorganization three times before 1966. When the Cultural Revolution broke out in 1966, the Red Guards, with the support of Mao Zedong, abolished the entire educational administration in China.

A single Ministry of Education was re-established in 1975. As the political situation in China became more stable, the MOE was consolidated by the State Council. On June 18, 1985, a major reorganization of central educational administration took place in China. The 11th Plenary of the Standing Committee of the People's Congress in China passed a resolution that called for the abolition of the Ministry of Education and the establishment of the State Education Commission (SEC), a multi-functional executive branch of the State Council. The SEC is the supreme administrative authority for the education system in China and is responsible for turning out personnel well-educated and well-trained in various subjects and fields for China. For the first time in China's history, those who have assumed direct command of the country's educational system have high positions in the State Council. The SEC formulates major educational policies, designs overall strategies for promoting education, coordinates educational undertakings supervised by various ministries, and directs education reform.

In terms of accountability, institutes of higher education in the PRC are divided into four categories:

  1. Those under the direct administration of the SEC
  2. Those under the non-educational central ministries
  3. Those under provincial and other local authorities
  4. Private institutions

Usually, those under the direct administration of the SEC are considered as zhongdian daxue (key universities). The concept of key universities was first introduced in 1954. It has never been abandoned by the Chinese government except from 1972 to 1977 when students were not selected by college entrance examinations. Since the economic reforms in the 1980s, Beijing has more than ever before emphasized the importance of key schools. In 2000, eleven universities were designated as key institutions nationwide, following the example of American-style comprehensive universities to become leading higher educational institutions in the world.

Besides the universities under the SEC, there are some universities under the non-educational central ministries. Those universities tend to specialize in certain areas. For example, the Beijing Institute of Forest is under the Ministry of Forest; the Beijing University of Agriculture is run by the Ministry of Agriculture. Another type of university is managed by provincial and other local education bureaus. The proliferation of provincial and city universities has been encouraged both in order to meet rising social demand and in order to produce the mid-level technical personnel greatly needed in China's modernization drive.

Before the reform, financing of higher education was characterized by a number of features. First, since the early 1950s when the enrollment and job assignment plans went into effect, the majority of Chinese universities have been funded by both national and provincial governments. Second, the central government was in absolute control of the education budget. Funds were channeled through the Ministry of Finance to various ministries and local governments, with the endorsement of the then Ministry of Education. Third, funds were calculated by "basic number plus development." The "basic number" referred to the student enrollment and staff size as dictated by the national plan. "Development" referred to the incremental changes, again as required by the national plan. Unspent funds were returned to the government. Fourth, the national student-stipend scheme was designed to help students from low-income families. However, the government's overall education budget is not enough and is mostly spent in urban areas. As a result of poor facilities and lack of qualified teachers, students in the countryside have little access to adequate education.

The application of the Guangdong experiment in 1988 drastically altered China's highly centralized, socialist education system by introducing tuition payments and abolishing strict enrollment quotas. In the meantime the national student-stipend scheme began to be phased out at the end of the 1980s, and the student loan program was introduced in 1986-1987 by state-financed loans. Among those exempt are students at teacher training and national minorities institutes, who continue to receive a monthly cost-of-living allowance.

The Guangdong experiment immediately was perceived as changing the egalitarian distribution system and adding to the burdens of poor students. Also, as a result of this reform, "out-of-province" students were reluctant to attend colleges in Guangdong. To address these concerns, the State Education Commission has directed that college students should be divided into two basic enrollment categories. One is zhilingxing jihua (directed or state-assigned plan), while the other is the more flexible zhiddaoxing jihua (guided plan). Students enrolled under the state-guided plan will generally be exempt from paying tuition, and their other expenses will be largely state-subsidized. In return, they must agree to major in one of several unpopular specialties, enrollment quotas for which are typically difficult to fill. They must also accept a state-assigned job in the area for which they have been trained. Other students, under the guided plan, will be responsible for their own tuition and living expenses and for repaying any loans incurred, but they will be free to apply for enrollment in more popular specialties that train for better-paying and more prestigious careers, and they will find employment on their own after graduation. The two functions of the division are allowing students from poorer families to attend college and guaranteeing enrollments in essential specialties that are unpopular. Usually, those fields include teacher training, agriculture, water conservancy, geology, petroleum engineering, and mining. In addition, a small number of dingxiang peiyang students (under contractual arrangements between the school and the locality) who are enrolled from border and mountain regions must return after graduation. They also belong to the category of directed plan.

The Outline of Reform (1993) and the Education Law of 1995 stipulated that the two major sources of income that an institution receives are state appropriation and other non-state income. The former is known as yusuannei (budgeted), the latter, yusuanwai (unbudgeted). Budgeted refers to those that are appropriated by the state. Basically, the state provides funding for salaries and the general operation of the institutions. The state also provides partial funding for capital investments. The principle for the management of government appropriation is "one-line budget, retention of surplus." This is to provide incentive for institutions to economize on the resources available. Unbudgeted income is not recorded in government accounts. The five main sources of unbudgeted income are: university-run enterprises; research services and consulting sponsored mainly by individual academic departments; selling teaching services (correspondence courses, refresher courses, adult evening classes, technical training programs); endowment/ donations; and student fees. The proceeds are used to supplement faculty salaries.

Since 1953, all college students received tuition-waiver scholarship and free dormitory. The food subsidies depend on the student's family income. Usually 80 percent of the students receive food subsidies from the national government. From 1997, all higher education institutions started charging student fees. Those students whose admission to college is based on their score have been required to pay 4,000 to 6,000 yuan per academic year while those zifeisheng are asked to pay 20,000 to 30,000 yuan per year.

Total World Bank loans to Chinese education have amounted to about US$1.2 billion since the 1980s. It has been managed in a bureaucratic way, with the Ministry of Finance having overall supervision, a loan office in the State Education Commission overseeing the disbursement of loans to all institutions at the national level, and similar offices in provincial education commissions responsible for the oversight of projects at the provincial level. In contrast to World Bank projects, cooperative projects funded by agencies such as UNESCO, UNDP, UNFPA, and UNICEF in China have been small in scale and focused on particular developmental goals related to their area of responsibility. These agencies have a fairly diffuse presence within many different governmental offices and provide a wide range of opportunities for university scholars to participate in regional or international projects of mutual learning and enhancement.

The restrictive policies of the Chinese government in the past have posed a major obstacle to qualitative and quantitative research regarding many aspects of Chinese society, including education. Since the institution of the Four Modernizations and the subsequent Open Door Policy, the leadership has been more lenient in permitting education research by both domestic and foreign scholars. Nevertheless, much of the material published on Chinese education immediately following the reform period are empirically and theoretically weak. Often, the only source for the assertions made are the writers' own impressions, and any data originates from state-arranged interviews with designated educational professionals and policy-makers. Since the 1980s, there has been steadily growing interest in domestic issues among Chinese intellectuals, fostered by the reform era and growing international interest in China. As a result, the increase in dissertation research, as well as the growing number of social science research institutes, indicates a promising future for education research in general.

Main research institutes in China include the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, and eleven key universities. They may apply on an equal basis for research funding, with all applications judged by a peer review process. For applied research, institutes and universities are officially encouraged to seek support through contracts with productive ministries and enterprises in addition to traditional allocations available within the national plan. This enhanced flexibility and opportunity for the exercise of initiative has made possible a more significant research role for higher level institutions.

Additional topics

Education Encyclopedia - StateUniversity.comGlobal Education ReferenceChina - History Background, Constitutional Legal Foundations, Educational System—overview, Preprimary Primary Education, Secondary Education