Various reform have been carried out in recent years in the higher education system, which has taken initial shape, such as reform of the college entrance examination and relevant regulations, reform of the higher education system, and reform aimed at promoting quality-oriented education.
In 2001, one of the focuses in higher education reform was readjustment of the structure of subjects. Therefore, the Ministry of Education added 1,993 specialities in 503 institutions of higher learning around China and started enrolment, thus optimizing cross-area distribution structure of specialities. To solve the shortage of regular colleges and universities in some metropolitan cities, the Ministry of Education has approved establishment of such schools in those areas.
In 2001, the Ministry of Education drew up and publicized ten-odd measures to raise education quality, including reform of examinations. It tries to change the mode of learning by rote for college entrance examinations by focusing the examination contents more on students’ quality and competence.
Expansion of Enrolment According to a development plan, by 2005, the number of students in institutions of higher learning is to reach about 16 million (including 600,000 postgraduate students). Therefore, starting from 2001, the annual increase of enrolment of undergraduates and students of vocational training in regular and adult institutions of higher learning is to be about one million. That is, by the end of 2005, the gross enrolment rate of institutions of higher learning will be 15 percent, and the education development will be basically in the phase of popularization of higher education. Therefore, during the period between 2001 and 2005,all the regular and adult institutions of higher learning will enlarge their enrolment of undergraduates and students of vocational training by about 10 percent each year, and that of postgraduates by about 15 percent each year.
In 1998, 1.08 million students were enrolled in regular institutions of higher learning throughout China; in 1999, 1.6 million; and in 2000, 2.2 million. In 2001, as many as 4.4 million were enrolled in institutions of higher learning, including 2.6 million in regular ones and 1.8 million in those for adult education. In the same year, 162,000 postgraduates were enrolled in institutions of higher learning and research institutes, increasing by 33.9 percent over the previous year.
Student Loans The practice of charging tuition fees by institutions of higher learning began in 1989. The cost of higher education, a stage of non-compulsory education, is shared by the government, society and individuals, which is one of the basic principles of China’s ongoing reform of charges for education.
From 1990 to 1997, the tuition fees of China’s institutions of higher learning increased at an average annual rate of over 20 percent. In 2001, they rose by a still wider margin. At present, the average university tuition fee is between 4,200 and 6,000 yuan a year. In 1999, the per capita income of urban residents in China was 5,854 yuan. Due to the substantial increase of tuition fees, it has become a heavy burden for many families to support a university student. To help qualified students who cannot afford tuition fees, the state, while continuing to promote the reform of the school charges system, allocated 744.7 million yuan of special funds in eight batches from 1994 to 1999 to subsidize such students, and backed this up with a series of steps, including scholarships, loans, stipends, subsidies and reduction or exemption from tuition fees.
At present, a nationwide system of student loans is one of the important channels for helping students with financial difficulties. Established in 1999, it has become a relatively complete system of financial aid policy, through which students in financial difficulty can be granted unsecured credit loans equivalent to their tuition and basic cost of living after their eligibility is proved. At the same time, they may also enjoy 50 percent of the state preferential financial discount. Generally, a student will receive a yearly loan of 8,000 yuan. The term of a loan is generally less than eight years, which can be prolonged when the student is pursuing a higher degree after graduation. The interest rate of student loans is the same as that of the loans for the same term set by the People’s Bank of China, brooking no increase. The implementation of the student loans system has been well received among students with financial difficulties. In 2000, the quota of discount on student loans was 2.25 billion yuan. By May 2001, 170,000 students around the country had signed loan contracts, involving a total contractual amount of 1.26 billion yuan, and financial authorities at all levels had arranged a total discount of 279 million yuan. The total amount of loans actually issued in the first five months of 2001 was 51 percent more than that of the entire previous year.
Amalgamation of Institutions of Higher Learning Since the 1990s, the union of the excellent institutions of higher learning has become one of the hottest topics of conversation in the reform of the higher education system in China. The education departments have established the goal of setting up 100 international first-grade multi-discipline universities in the 21st century, “carriers” of higher education, as termed by the press.
The readjustment and amalgamation of institutions of higher learning started in 1993. In the first few decades of the post-Liberation period, the structure of China’s higher education was molded by the planned economy, raising barriers between different departments and regions and creating overlapping in organization. A great upsurge in amalgamation of institutions of higher learning has unfolded since 1999. In September 1999, the Central Institute of Arts and Crafts was merged with Qinghua University, and in April 2000, the Beijing Medical Sciences University, the leading medical university in China, was incorporated into the 100-plus-year-old Peking University.
So far, nearly half of the institutions of higher learning in China have been involved in amalgamation. By June 2000, 490 institutions (355 regular ones and 135 adult ones) had merged to form 204 universities (196 regular ones and eight adult ones).