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How Chinese HE has grown and changed

February 2014

In an article in OECD’s Journal on Higher Education Management and Policy (24/2), Catherine Yan Wang shows how China has made huge strides in expanding access to higher education since the 1980’s. Entry to higher education grew from a mere 1.2% of the age group in 1980 to 24.2% in 2009: 20 times as high in 29 years. Over these years, China saw a significant shift from state-regulated tuition-free education for very view, to a much more diversified system in which tuition fees and loans and grants pray a significant role. The notion of fee-paying students was introduced since 1983, decentralised fee-charging in 1989 and universal fee-charging in 1997. In response to this development, the government funds for scholarships and loans grew from 24 million US$ in 2002 to 4 500 million US$ in 2009: almost 200 times as high in 7 years.

Catherine Yan Wang demonstrates that this development has had an adverse effect on relative access for students from low socioeconomic strata: the percentage of HE students from this background fell from ca 45% in 1980 to ca 21% in 1990. Ms Yan Wang gives no data on absolute numbers of students form these strata, nor on the percentage of the age cohort within the strata obtaining access. The likelihood of young adults from workers’ and farmers’ background to enter HE may thus have increased, even though their proportion within HE population has decreased.

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