Localization of Higher Education and Its Social Consequences in Mainland
(First draft only, not for citation.)
Sun Yat-sen University, China
Michael H. Lee
The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Reviewing major higher education policies since the year 1993 when the blueprint of
education reform was promulgated, this article examines some social consequences
induced from the latest development and continuous expansion of higher education in
Mainland China till nowadays. One of the most noticeable characteristics of the
Chinese higher education system in recent years has been revealed not only from the
trend of massification, but also from the movement towards localization in line with
the decentralization of responsibility and authority from the central government to run
universities at localities which are supposed to be entitled with a higher degree of
autonomy in resource allocation and institutional management. This article argues that
although the higher education system in Mainland China has been massified and
expanded rapidly to cater for drastically growing demands of higher education over
the past decade, both the massification and localization of higher education has
contributed to a number of undesirable consequences for the Chinese society,
including regional disparity, social inequality, employment mismatch, and even
impoverishment of rural families which many university students come from. It
should be noted that these social consequences can hamper the progress of social
development in Mainland China if these problems are not tackled in a proper way
About the authors:
Ngok King-lun is Associate Professor, School of Government, Sun Yat-sen University,
Guangzhou, China. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Michael H. Lee is Instructor,
Department of History, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, and concurrently
Visiting Lecturer, Faculty of Education, The University of Hong Kong. E-mail:
China’s market-oriented reform was injected new driving force in the early 1990s
when Deng Xiaoping, the late paramount leader in China toured in South China in
early 1992 and vowed to develop socialist market economy in China. Deng’s
instruction was legalized as the general policy guideline of the Chinese Communist
Party in late 1992 when the Party Congress affirmed that China’s reform would be
directed to a market economy. For the purpose to enlarge the size of higher education
and develop more talents for the market economy, it is important to develop a new
relationship between the state and university and to adjust the role of the government
in higher education in the context of market economy. In 1993, an important
education policy document entitled “the Program for Education Reform and
Development in China” was promulgated, which outlined the major reform strategies
and directions of China’s education in general and higher education in particular
towards to the twenty-first century. Thereafter, great changes have taken place in
Chinese higher education, such as, the rapid expansion of the size of higher education,
the fast increase of university recruitment rate, heavy investment in key universities,
the development of non-state tertiary institutions, and even the industrialization of the
higher education sector.
With the booming of higher education in China since the 1990s, a lot of academic
energy was spent on the changes and development of higher education in China.
Under the conceptual framework of decentralization and marketization, the
mainstream literature on Chinese higher education addresses the changing policies
and practices of educational financing, provision, curriculum design, students intake
and graduates assignment, personnel and internal management (Cheng, 1994, 1995;
Kwong, 1996; Mok and Chan, 2001; Mok, 2001), the marketization and massifciation
of Chinese higher education (Yin and White, 1994), the changing relationship
between the Party-state and universities (Mok and Ngok, 2002), the regrouping and
merging of higher learning institutions (Mok and Lo, 2005), and the rise of minban
higher education in China (Pepper, 1996; Hayhoe, 1996; Agelasto and Adamson, 1998,
Kwong, 1997; Lin, 1996; Mok, 1997a, 1997b, 1999, 2000). Nevertheless, the social
consequences of the decentralization and marketization, especially the localization of
higher education in China have not received sufficient attention from academics and
researchers. In fact, decentralization and marketization have resulted important
impacts on education development and social development in China, especially in the
economically backward regions. In order to present the argument, this article focuses
on the localization of higher education and its social consequences in China since the
1990s. This paper firstly will explore the issues in decentralization and marketization
discourse, and propose a framework of analysis. Then, using Zhejiang, Hunan and
Guizhou, three provinces selected from the eastern, central and western regions
respectively, as examples, this paper will examine the social consequences resulted
from the localization of higher education in China.
A Framework of Analysis: Market Transition and Educational Decentralization
Decentralization is by no means an entirely new policy initiative or a recent policy
product. In fact, the policies and practices of decentralization have long been adopted
as strategies by different nation states to reform and improve their administrative
systems (Wettenhall, 1996). In face of increasing financial constraints and declining
state capacity in public services, modern countries have been under increasing
pressure for restructuring and reforming their public sector and service delivery.
Against this backdrop, a tidal wave of New Public Management emerged since the
early 1980s (Hood, 1991). Following the doctrines of New Public Management,
decentralization has become one of the most popular public policy strategies
commonly adopted by modern states to improve the organization and management of
the public sector (Fiske, 1996; Dill and Sporn, 1995).
Three major forms of decentralization have been identified by decentralization
literature (Hanson, 1998, p. 112; Bray, 1999). They are deconcentralization,
delegation, and devolution. Deconcentration typically involves the transfer of tasks
and work, but not authority, to other units in the organization; Delegation involves the
transfer of decision-making authority from higher to lower hierarchical units, but that
authority can be withdrawn at the discretion of the delegating unit; Devolution refers
to the transfer of authority to an autonomous unit that can act independently, or a unit
that can act without first asking permission. These three forms of decentralization can
be reconceptualized into two main categories, namely, functional decentralization and
territorial decentralization. Functional decentralization refers to “a shift in the
distribution of powers between various authorities that operate in parallel” while
territorial decentralization refers to “a redistribution of control among the different
geographical tiers of government, such as nation, states/provinces, districts, and
schools” (Bray, 1999, pp. 208-209).
Being one of the major public policies, educational decentralization is a popular
reform of governments around the world, despite the diversified strategies and
outcomes that different countries have adopted (Hanson, 1998). The range of models
for decentralization in higher education is very wide. Decentralization has occurred in
almost all aspects of the relationship between the state and higher learning institutions.
Under the policy of decentralization and deregulation, universities have been granted
more autonomy and freedom to design their own structures for academic programs,
personnel management as well as financial allocation.
China’s market transition is characterized and driven by decentralization. Since
late 1970s, the modernization drive, the reform and opening up to the outside world
has transformed the highly centralized planning economy into a market oriented and
more dynamic economy. The new direction of market economy has important
implications for China’s higher education. The old way of governing the higher
education system was rendered inappropriate in the new social economic
environment. In parallel with the market-oriented economic reform, the Chinese
government has started the higher education reform process since the early 1980s in
order to make the higher education sector more flexible, adaptive and innovative to
the rapidly changing economy. Central to the reform strategies are closely related to
the policy of decentralization. The characteristics of the higher education reform in
China in the context of market transition could be understood as an orientation
towards decentralization. Given the highly centralized higher education system in
China, decentralization in higher education in China has some salient features.
Decentralization in China’s higher education has mainly occurred in the
administrative system of higher education, including the funding system. In doing so,
the subnational governments, mainly the provincial governments have been granted
more responsibilities to fund universities localized in their territories. Not only the
provincial governments are responsible for the higher education development within
their jurisdiction, but also most universities originally run by the central government
are now delegated to the provincial governments. We call this phenomenon as
localization of higher education. This policy not only allows provincial governments
to have a greater say in higher education matters and to make a good use of higher
education to serve local social and economic development, but also opens the way for
public sectors, private organizations and even individuals to operate higher education
learning institutions. Therefore, the incentive of local governments to develop higher
education has been enhanced. Due to the different financial situations of different
local governments, regional disparity in higher education development has been
Decentralization and Massification of Higher Education since 1993
Before the communists came to power in 1949, the relationships between universities
and the state were very complicated given the co-existence of both state-funded
universities and non-state universities, especially the large number of universities run
by missionaries. A new structure of governance of universities was taken shape after
the foundation of the new China through the adoption of the Soviet model in Chinese
higher education system. The reason for using Soviet system was to adapt the higher
education system to meet the economic development needs. The Soviet patterns had
reinforced the tendencies toward the centralization of knowledge and uniformity of
thought (Hayhoe, 1989).
Soviet influence was mainly on the organization and administration of higher
education. In 1952, the Chinese government implemented policies to nationalize all
higher education institutions, including all public, private and missionary universities
and colleges. Such a large scale of nationalization was accompanied by a significant
restructuring and readjusting of higher education institutions. After the reorganization,
all universities and colleges became state-run institutions, which were made narrowly
specialized according to the manpower planning derived from the central planning
economy (Min, 1994). Then a hierarchical, centralized and well-organized network
was developed (Agelasto and Adamson, 1998, p. 31). The newly nationalized system
was organized and restructured based on a state control model. The state assumed the
responsibility to formulate educational policies, allocate educational resources, exert
administrative controls, recruit teaching staff and decide on curricula and textbooks.
The higher education institutions under the direct leadership of the government,
implemented the unitary instructional plans, course syllabi and textbooks in all the
colleges and universities throughout the country, it was believed that such a higher
education system could best serve the centrally planned manpower needs. In a
nutshell, the party-state monopolized the provision, financing and governance of
Such a structure of higher education governance was characterized by
over-centralization. At first, it was an over-centralized system. As the top government
agency was in charge of educational policy-making, the Ministry of Education (an
independent Ministry of Higher Education existed for a short time) was to provide
general guidance for all institutions of higher education and to control major policy
decisions concerning higher education. In addition, the Ministry of Education (MoE)
retained direct control over certain key universities. MoE took responsibility for
designing curricula and syllabuses, designing textbooks, student admission, graduate
job assignment, and exerted control over matters like budgets, salary scales and
personnel issues. Provincial and local education commissions and bureaus were just
mediators and reinforces of national policy. Since the central government had the
absolute control over financing, provision and management of education, the
enthusiasm of local governments and higher education institutions was jeopardized. In
addition, the over-burdened MoE resulted in inefficient administration and ineffective
The underdevelopment of education in the Mao’s era had made the post-Mao
leaders realize that over-centralized and stringent regulations would only stifle the
initiatives and enthusiasm of local government and individual educational institutions.
Under such circumstances, the party-state took the initiative to relax the state control
over education and thus deliberately “rolled back” its role in the educational sphere.
Meanwhile, the local authorities were encouraged to play a greater role in education
financing, provision and regulation. Various social energies and resources were
motivated, mobilized and channeled to provide educational services outside the state.
As a result, the previously highly centralized educational system has undergone the
processes of decentralization and marketization.
The policy of decentralization has been initiated in the mid 1980s, and reinforced
and deepened since 1993. With the decentralization of the “centrally planned
economy”, structural changes have also been initiated in higher education sector. Two
changes are very salient in the administrative system of higher education. One is the
increasing role of local governments in higher education financing, that is, the
so-called localization of higher education; the other is the retreat of non-educational
central departments from higher education. As a result, the role of the central
government in education financing has been relinquished while local governments are
empowered to take charge of the responsibility of educational provision and
Increasing Role of Local Government and the Localization of Higher Education
It is noteworthy that although almost all universities in China were funded and
regulated by the state before the reform started in the 1980s, they were rather
diversified in terms of governance. Many universities and other higher educational
institutions were run and administrated by different departments at the central level,
while others were under the control of local governments. We can identify three
categories of higher education institutions in terms of governance: (a) those under the
direct administration of the MoE; (b) those under the non-educational central
ministries; and (c) those under provincial and other local authorities.
Such a governance structure was also notorious for the separation of the center
and the locality, the segmentation of universities, resources wastage, functional
overlapping, and low efficiency. As each higher education institution was directed by
their departments in charge at the central and local levels, there was lack of
coordination among these levels. Therefore, unnecessary establishment of similar
institutions and specialties in the same area appeared (Fan, 1995, p. 43).
In order to make the higher education sector suitable for the market-oriented
economy, the reform policy of decentralization has been adopted since the 1992.
The decentralization policy aims to change such a governing structure, and establish a
system of “unified leadership by the centre and two-tier administration by the central
and provincial (municipal and autonomous regional) governments”. The new pattern
of educational governance changed the relationship between the central and local
governments. The role of provincial governments in higher education has been
increased largely in terms of financing and management. Provincial governments
were encouraged to cooperate with the central government via the MoE to run and
fund all MoE-led universities located in the provinces. With the increasing role of the
local government in higher education, a new trend of localization of higher education
emerged in China.
Take Shanghai for an example. As one of the higher education centres in China,
there were about 50 full-time colleges and universities in Shanghai in the early 1990s.
Among them, more than half were run and funded by the MoE and other departments
at the central level, while others were run and funded by the Shanghai municipal
education department and other municipal departments. Such a system for
administering higher educational institutions led to the separation of the center and the
locality, the segmentation of universities, resource wastage, and functional
overlapping, and thus could not achieve economy of scale and the better use of the
limited resources. With decentralization policies being pursued by the central
government, the Shanghai municipal government planned to strengthen its
coordinating function in relation to the universities that are located in Shanghai. The
municipal government began to make adjustments for the universities and colleges,
which were previously under the control of the various departments of the municipal
government, by transferring them to be under the jurisdiction of the Municipal
Commission for Education. At the same time, many universities and colleges which
have similar functions were merged and combined together. For example, in May
1994, the original Shanghai University was merged with the Shanghai University of
Industry, Shanghai Science and Technology University and Shanghai Higher
Vocational College of Science and Technology to form the new Shanghai University.
In October 1994, the Shanghai Normal University and Shanghai Technical Normal
Colleges were also merged. Resources are concentrated and directed to a few key
universities and key disciplines so as to enhance investment efficiency. For instance,
starting from 1999, Shanghai decided to pull financial resources together to fully
develop Fudan University and Shanghai Jiaotong University, the two key universities
that are under the Ministry of Education but are located in Shanghai, aiming to build
them into “world-class” universities. Meanwhile, the municipal government started to
co-operate with the MoE to run and fund all the seven MoE-led universities located in
Shanghai. Besides two special colleges, all the higher educational institutions
originally run and administrated by central departments and located in Shanghai have
now been taken over by the municipal government (Chan and Ngok, 2001).
Retreat of Non-educational Central Departments from Higher Education
Under the planned economy, in order to implement government’s direct intervention
in business, a large number of specialized economic management departments were
established and maintained in China. In order to train professional manpower for the
specific industries, these non-educational central departments also established and
administered their own universities. Higher education institutions under those specific
economic management departments were made narrowly specialized in order to fit the
manpower planning under the planned economy. This caused “matrix fragmentation”
(tiao/kuai fenge) in educational governance, which led to functional overlapping,
resources wastage, low economy and efficiency in higher education sector. Moreover,
these mono-disciplinary institutions, however, have been no longer compatible with
the market economy, due to the emergence of manpower market, professional
modification and staff personnel mobility.
In response to the problems caused by “matrix fragmentation” (tiao/kuai fenge)
and the heavy involvement of specific central economic management departments in
higher education, a new wave of readjustment of higher education institutions was
launched since early 1992. Main forms of readjustments include joint construction
(gongjian), cooperation, merger, and even abolition. From 1992 to 2000, 387 regular
universities were merged and readjusted into 212 universities (Zhou, 2005, p. 55).
The 1998 administrative reform of the central government, which abolished the
bulk of central ministries in charge of economic management, has brought about the
great wave of readjustments of universities and colleges that were previously under
the control of the various non-educational departments of the central government. As
a result of this reform, the bulk of the central departments in charge of specialized
economic management was abolished, including Ministry of Coal Industry, Ministry
of Machine-Building Industry, Ministry of Metallurgical Industry, Ministry of
Internal Trade, Light Industry Council and Textile Industry Council, Ministry of Posts
and Telecommunications, Ministry of Electronic Industry, Ministry of Radio, Film
and Television, Ministry of Electric Power Industry, Ministry of Chemical Industry,
and Ministry of Forestry. Before the proposed restructuring there were more than 90
regular higher education institutions directly under these ministries. With the abolition
of these central ministries, the management structures of 91 universities were under
the readjustment. It has been the largest scale of management reform of higher
education institutions in China since the early 1990s. Among the 91 regular higher
education institutions, 10 leading universities are under the joint investment
(gongjian) by the central and local governments with the former prevailing in major
decision-making and the latter prevailing in the daily management of the universities.
The other 81 universities are jointly administered by the central and local
governments with the latter prevailing in the management. Local governments will
manage their state assets, and be responsible for the management of their staff
establishment, labor and wage. The development of these universities will be placed
under the local economic and social development plans. The provincial governments
have the responsibilities to take measures to allow these institutions to play a more
distinct role in the promotion of local economic and social developments. Preferential
treatment available usually to the local institutions must be made available to these
From 1994 to 2002, 250 of the 367 HEIs run by the non-educational central
departments were transferred to provincial governments. In the year of 2000, 53
universities under the ministries of the central government were merged into 22
universities (People's Daily, 1 November 2000). With few exceptions,
non-educational central government ministries have retreated from running higher
educational institutions. Most of the higher educational institutions originally run and
administered by the central ministries located in the provinces have been taken over
by the provincial governments.
Obviously, the retreat of non-educational central department from higher
education sector and the localization of higher education were accompanied with a
wave of institutional amalgamation. With the decentralization of higher education
administrative system, many universities have been regrouped and consolidated: the
number of universities directly affiliated with the State Council departments has been
cut from 367 in 1993 to 111 in 2004 (see Table 1). The majority of universities have
been relegated to provincial government and joint development by local and central
authorities (Zhou, 2005, p. 10). The State Council has also given provincial
governments the approval to set up post-secondary colleges and technical schools, and
the authority to make their own plans for enrolling students for junior college
education. As a result, a new administrative system has set up which is characterized
by the two-tier management, based on the division of labor between the central and
provincial governments, and dominated by the coordinated management of the
Table 1 Affiliation of Regular Higher Education Institutions (1997-2004)
Total HEIs affiliated directly to the HEIs affiliated to provincial
number central government government
of HEIs Affiliated Affiliated Sub- Public Private Sub-
to MoE to total total
1997 1,020 35 310 345 655 20 675
1999 1,071 46 202 248 786 37 823
2000 1,041 72 44 116 888 37 925
2003 1,552 73 38 111 1,268 173 1,441
2004 1,731 73 38 111 1,394 226 1,620
Source: Zhou (2005, p. 56)
Massification of Higher Education
With decentralization policies in place, especially the retreat of the non-educational
central departments in higher education, the role the provincial governments in higher
education has been empowered and reinforced, especially in terms of the coordinating
function and financial responsibility. Meanwhile, the incentive of local governments
to develop higher education has been fostered, especially for those with good
economic capacity. Their incentive was further encouraged by the policy of recruiting
more students adopted by the central government in 1999. As a result, the size of
higher education sector has been expanded rapidly since 1993. These developments
mark the new trend of localization of higher education in China.
The years after 1993 have witnessed a large-scale development of higher
education in the 1990s and different types of tertiary institutions have evolved in the
mainland, including both national (public) and private (minban) higher education
institutions (Mok, 2001b, Chan and Mok, 2001). The number of higher education
institutions has increased rapidly, especially those under the administration of local
government. Due to the institutional amalgamation, the number of universities under
the administration of the central government has not increased significantly since
1990s, the figure of local universities has soared from 655 in 1997 to 1,394 in 2004.
The increase of the number of private or minban higher learning institutions which are
authorized to offer degree and diploma programs is also remarkable, from 20 in 1997
to 226 in 2004. The expansion of public higher education is more remarkable.
With the increase of university number, the number of students recruited has
inflated greatly. The gross enrolment ratio of higher education has increased from 3.4
per cent in 1990 to 19 per cent in 2004 (Zhou, 2005). In 2004, a total of 4.47 million
students, which was quadrupled since 1998, were enrolled in 1,731 regular higher
educational institutions (see Table 2). The total registered students in higher education
reached 13.33 million in 2004.
Table 2 Number of Annual Students Intake and Graduates in China (1998-2004)
(Unit: million persons)
Year Students intake Graduates
1998 1.08 0.83
1999 1.60 0.85
2000 2.21 0.95
2001 2.68 1.04
2002 3.21 1.34
2003 3.82 1.88
2004 4.47 2.39
Source: Zhou (2005)
Regional Disparity of Higher Education since 1993
Admittedly, China’s higher education has made remarkable progress since the 1990s
in terms of the rapid expansion of higher education scale and the fast increase of
university attendance rate. Massification of higher education brought by the rapid
expansion of the public tertiary institutions and the development of private education
institutions have satisfied to a large extent the huge education demand of the people.
While educational opportunities in the higher education sphere have been expanded
rapidly, and the gap between demand and supply of education has been shortened, but
not all Chinese people have benefited from the rapid expansion equally. In fact, the
inequality of higher education opportunity has been deteriorated rather than improved.
The localization of higher education has contributed greatly to the regional
disparity of higher education. The rapid expansion of higher education in recent
decade benefited mainly the people in the coastal provinces and large cities where
economic prosperity has promoted the educational development.
We use Zhejiang, Hunan and Guizhou three provinces as examples to illustrate
the regional disparity of higher education after the localization policy since 1993. For
the purpose of comparison, these three provinces are used as the representatives of the
eastern, central and western regions in China respectively. Zhejiang, a coastal
province in east China, is famous of its booming non-state economy. Hunan, located
in central China, is a province with a strong tradition of education and culture. Its
level of economic development is lower than that of Zhejiang. Guizhou is a typical
impoverished province in west China. While Zhejiang is one of the richest provinces,
Guizhou is among the poorest regions in China. Among the above three provinces,
Hunan is the most populous one. In 2004, Hunan’s population was 66.98 million,
while Zhejiang was 47.19 million and Guizhou 39 million. Zhejiang is the most
economically advanced province among the three provinces being compared, and
Guizhou is the poorest one. GDP per capita in Zhejiang was RMB 23,942, whilst that
in Hunan was RMB 7,554 and in Guizhou was RMB 3,603 in 2004 (see Table 3).
Table 3 Brief Profile of the Zhejiang, Hunan and Guizhou Provinces (2004)
Zhejiang Hunan Guizhou
Population 47.19 66.98 39.03
Area (sq km) 10.18 21.18 17.62
GDP 1,124.3 561.23 159.19
GDP per capita RMB 23,942 RMB 7,554 (2003) RMB 3,603
US$ 2,895 RMB 9,117 (2004) (2003)
Government 23.20 12.21 6.92
Sources: Education Statistics Yearbook of China 2004, Guizhou Yearbook 2005,
Hunan Yearbook 2005, Zhejiang Yearbook 2005.
Before the mid-1990s, in the respect of the number of HEIs, among three
provinces, Hunan was ranked first, Zhejiang second, and Guizhou last. In 1993, there
were only 37 higher learning institutions in Zhejiang. Among them, only one
university was administrated by the central government. In Hunan, the figure was 47,
10 more than in Zhejiang. Six of them were under the leadership of the central
government. The number of universities in Guizhou was 22 and all of them were local
institutions (see Table 4).
Table 4 General Situation of Higher Education in Zhejiang, Hunan and Guizhou
Zhejiang Hunan Guizhou
Number of HEIs 37 47 22
Number of 30,482 39,081 10,992
Number of 87,428 123,053 32,328
Source: Education Statistics Yearbook of China 1994
After the adoption of localization policy, due to the different levels of economic
growth and economic resources, the development of higher education in these three
provinces is uneven. Based on its economic capacity, Zhejiang’s higher education,
especially non-state higher education has expanded rapidly. From 1993 to 2004, the
number of higher education institutions in Zhejiang was almost doubled, reaching 73.
In the same period, Hunan had 34 new colleges while Guizhou had only 12. The gross
enrolment ratio of higher education is the most important indicator to measure the
development of higher education in a region. Among these three provinces, the past
ten years have witnessed the rapid development of higher education in Zhejiang,
where the gross enrolment ratio reached 30 per cent in 2004, 10 per cent higher the
national average. While in Hunan and Guizhou, the figure was 17.7 per cent and 10
per cent respectively. In 2004, the higher education enrolment rate of senior high
school graduates reached 76.6 per cent in Zhejiang (see Table 5).
Table 5 General Situation of Higher Education in Zhejiang, Hunan and Guizhou
Zhejiang Hunan Guizhou
Number of HEIs 73 81 34
Number of 195.6 202.4 60.5
Number of 572.8 625.5 179.4
Gross University 30 (2004) 17.7 10 (2003)
Enrollment Rate 34 (2005)
Acceptance Rate 76.6 (2004) NA NA
of HEIs (%) 71.4 (2005)
Number of HEIs 1 4 0
in 211 Project
Sources: Education Yearbook of China 2005, Education Statistics Yearbook of China
2004, Guizhou Yearbook 2005, Hunan Yearbook 2005, Zhejiang Yearbook 2005.
Nonetheless, comparing the number of HEIs being included in the 211 Project, it
is the Hunan Province has more 211 Project HEIs than both the Zhejiang and Guizhou
Provinces. While there are four 211 Project universities under the in Hunan, there is
only one 211 Project university in Zhejiang and even none in Guizhou. It seems the
regional layout of the key point universities is uneven. The reason why Hunan has
more 211 Project universities is that there are more universities in Hunan directly
under the central government.
Meanwhile, the number of private HEIs in the three provinces, as shown in Table
6, is closely related to the economic status of those provinces in China. The more
economically developed the province is, the faster the pace of the growth of private or
minban universities is for the province as shown in the case of Zhejiang as comparing
with Hunan and Guizhou in this study.
Table 6 The Development of Private HEIs in Zhejiang, Hunan and Guizhou
Zhejiang Hunan Guizhou
2002 37 60 3
2003 44 65 4
Incl.: 7 regular HEIs Incl.: 5 regular HEIs Incl.: 1 regular HEI
37 other private HEIs 60 other private HEIs 3 other private HEIs
2004 61 86 12
Incl.: 8 regular HEIs Incl.: 6 regular HEIs Incl.: 1 regular HEI
19 independent col. 15 independent col. 8 independent col.
34 other private HEIs 65 other private HEIs 3 other private HEIs
Note: Private HEIs include privately-run regular HEIs, independent colleges affiliated
with regular public funded HEIs, and other private HEIs.
Sources: Education Yearbook of China 2003, Education Yearbook of China 2004,
Education Yearbook of China 2005, Education Statistics Yearbook of China 2003,
Education Statistics Yearbook of China 2004, Guizhou Yearbook 2004, Guizhou
Yearbook 2005, Hunan Yearbook 2005, Zhejiang Yearbook 2005.
Referring to Table 6, the number of private HEIs in Zhejiang, which are comprised of
privately-run regular HEIs, independent colleges affiliated with public-funded regular
HEIs, and other private HEIs, increased from 37 to 61, which is translated into a 65
per cent increase in the quantity of HEIs, within the three years between 2002 and
2004. On the other hand, the growth of private HEIs in Hunan during the same period
of time was slower than Zhejiang’s. The number of private HEIs in Hunan was
increased from 60 in 2002 to 86 in 2004, which was an increase by 43 per cent.
Although Guizhou had a 200 per cent increase in the number of private HEIs between
2002 and 2004, there was no increase in the number of both privately-run regular
HEIs or other private HEIs. Such an increase in the number of private HEIs in
Guiuzhou was engineered by the emergence of independent colleges as similar as the
cases in Zhejiang and Hunan. The poorer the province is, the slower the pace of the
growth of private HEIs. The three provinces are similar to undergo a rapid growth of
independent colleges affiliated with regular HEIs in their higher education systems.
As seen from these three provinces, while the growth of other private HEIs has been
stagnated and even declined as the case in Zhejiang, there has been a more obvious
trend of having more independent colleges being set up in developed, developing and
underdeveloped provinces. The more economically developed the province is, the
more the quantity of independent colleges being set up there.
In short, therefore, the expansion of higher education, in particular the private
higher education sector, depends very much on the extent of economic development
among individual provinces.
Increasing Tuition Fee and the Impoverishment of Rural Students Families
Rural-urban disparity is a longstanding problem in China's social development.
Educational disparity between rural and urban regions has being widened since the
late 1970s. Worse still, the huge change in social stratification has led to great
disadvantaged social groups in China, which include the unemployed, laid-off
workers from the ailing state-owned enterprises, and other people suffering economic
vulnerabilities. Students from these poor families are found difficult to afford the
soaring educational costs, especially the higher education services. The access to
higher education of some students from poor rural areas and urban poor families is
denied due to the increasing financial difficulties. For the poor families who have
tried their best to support their children university education, the heavy education
expenditure has led to the impoverishment of their families. The situation has been
deteriorated further when their children could not find jobs after they left universities.
Along with the rapid expansion of higher education opportunities, university
tuition fees have soared. In 2005, the national average level of tuition fee was about
RMB 5,000 to RMB 6,000 per year depending on the program students pursue. In the
same year, the per capita deposit income of urban residents was about RMB 10,500,
while the net income of rural residents is about RMB 3,200. On average, the per
capita annual income of Chinese residents is about RMB 6,200. That is to say, the
university tuition fee is nearly equivalent to the per capita income of Chinese people.
Obviously, the tuition fee is very high. With the enlargement of the size of higher
education, more and more university students are from rural areas, especially from
poor families. With the increase of the total student number, students from poor
families have increased too. In the academic year 2005-06, there are 23 million
registered students in universities nationwide; among them, about 20 per cent are
from poor families. The total number of poor students is about 2.6 million, among
them, more than 1.6 million from absolute poor families. The average cost of one
student is about RMB 15,000 currently. To make the higher education workable, the
state should invest RMB 450 billion in the higher education sector. The money is
mainly from the central government, local government, and students. Due to the
scarcity of resources, the limited resource from the central government is mainly
invested in a few key universities, especially those under the management of the
Ministry of Education. Due to the poor financial performance, many local
governments have not increased their investment in higher education sector, though
the scale of their higher education has extended continuously. As a result, the local
universities have to shift the financial burden to parents through the strategy of
large-scale of recruitment and high tuition fee. For example, in Qinghai province, the
per capita expenditure of university student in 2004 was RMB 1,050, which is about
the half of the national average (RMB 2,298 per student), and about one tenth of that
in Beijing. As the investment from local governments is in a decline, the burden
shared by parents has increased (Southern Weekly, 25 May 2006, p. A2).
In Qinghai, an impoverished northwest province in China, a large number of
young people have gained the chance to pursue higher education due to the rapid
expansion and localization of higher education since the late 1990s. Contrary to the
conventional wisdom, higher education has not brought about upward mobility of the
students, but led to the poorer condition of their families. Higher education has
become a new source of impoverishment in Qinghai.
In the higher education institutions run by the provincial authorities of Qinghai,
about half of the students are from poor families with an annual income lower than
RMB 1,000. Believing in the doctrine that education will change the fate of the family,
many rural families in the poor western regions sent their children to the colleges and
universities, though they have not afforded the high tuition fee. The growing fee of
tuition has become the huge investment in the lives of the poor parents.
Due to the poor teaching quality and the outdated courses provided by the
colleges, most of the graduates cannot find a decent job. A survey on the conditions of
university students in the east Qinghai conducted by one of the provincial agency
reveals some surprising findings. Due to the rapid expansion of higher education, the
university enrollment rate in Qinghai has increased fast. Before 1999 when the
expansion began, the enrollment rate was less than 50 per cent among the high school
students. By 2003, the figure has already reached 88 per cent, which is the highest in
China in that year.
A sharp contrast with the rapid growing enrollment rate in Qinghai is the
extremely low employment rate of the graduates. By September 2003, the
employment rate of the students of the provincial colleges and universities in Qinghai
was only 45.9 per cent. During the five years from 2000 to 2005, there were 8,863
university students from east Qinghai returning to their hometown after finishing their
tertiary education. By the end of June 2005, there were 5,900 students still waiting for
their first jobs. In some counties, the unemployment rate of the university students
hit 80 to 90 per cent. The situation is really frustrated. In 2004, the employment rate
was 58 per cent, a little bit improvement. However, the whole situation is still bad.
What’s more, most of the unemployed students are from poor rural families. Though
they have realized their dream of university, what awaits them when they awake from
the dream is unemployment.
Due to the limited financial capacity of local government, there is no enough
government money invested in the provincial colleges and universities in Qinghai.
As a result, the cost of the university expansion is shared by the poor farmers. In
Qinghai, the annual net income of the rural family is about RMB 1,000 while the
annual tuition fee is about RMB 5,000 to 6,000. The average expenditure of a
student is about RMB 7,000 per year, which is equal to the total annual net income of
9 farmers in the impoverished regions. The total expense of four-year university life
of one student is at least RMB 28, 000, which is equivalent to the 35 years’ net
income of a strong farmer. According to official statistics, there are 0.29 billion rural
population in the western China with the annual income of RMB 1,966 per capita
(Southern Weekly, 25 May 2006, pp. 1-2).
Table 7 Related Statistics on Higher Education in Qinghai (2003-04)
Enrollment rate of senior high school 88 (2003)
Unemployment rate of university graduates 54.1
Average college tuition fee per year (RMB) 5,000-6,000
Average annual expenditure of a student 7,000
Total average expense of four years (RMB) 28,000
Average annual net income of rural family 1,000
Source: Southern Weekly (Nanfang Zhoumo), 25 May 2006, pp. 1-2.
The impacts of decentralization and massfication of higher education in China are
multiple facets. After about two decades of restructuring and transforming, the
unified, centralized, closed, and static higher education system of China has now
becoming more diversified, decentralized, open, and dynamic. On the other hand,
decentralization and marketization of higher education has also led to the further
inequality in education opportunity. While decentralization has stimulated the
involvement of local governments and other non-state sectors in higher education
development, regional inequality in the area of higher education has deteriorated.
Such regional disparity can be attributed to the different levels of economic
development, which favors the coastal regions where their economic reforms have
been put in force for a much longer period since the late 1970s. On the contrary, the
economic reforms and development projects have only been put in force in the inner
and western regions of Mainland China since the turn of century, when it has
witnessed a central government policy shift towards encouraging more investments
and infrastructural projects in the captioned regions. It is therefore not surprising that
poorer regions or provinces encounter more difficulties, particularly in terms of
financial resources, to invest and expand their higher education systems in both terms
of the quantity and participation rate of HEIs, as shown in the comparison between
the Zhejiang, Hunan and Guizhou Provinces. Problems induced from the regional
disparity would exist for a period of time and would only be alleviated or solved until
economic situations in those poorer provinces in the inner and western part of
Mainland China would be improved with more transfer payment from the central
government and more investments from the coastal regions.
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