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Chinese Universities (大学) Posted by on Aug 30, 2011 in Culture, Education, Uncategorized

Going along with Steve’s post about heading back to school, I decided a post about China’s higher education is in order. China has well over 2,000 universities (大学 – dà xué) and colleges, with a total student body population in excess of 20 million. Between 2002 and 2008 alone, the number of higher education students in China quadrupled. In Beijing alone, there are 82 institutions of higher education – a list that includes a police academy, a sports college, a dance academy, political colleges, and everything in between.

好好学习,天天向上 - Good good study, day day up!

With more students hoping to enter a college or university than there are open spaces, the admissions process is quite intense and incredibly competitive. The National Higher Education Entrance Exam (普通高等学校招生全国统一考试 – pǔ tōng gāo děng xué xiào zhāo shēng quán guó tǒng yī kǎo shì), or Gao Kao (高考 – gāo kǎo) for short. This exam lasts for 2-3 days, and varies in different provinces. Just as American high school students stress out about the ACT or SAT exam, Chinese high school students feel an immense amount of pressure to succeed on the Gao Kao, as their admission into a university or college rides almost entirely on their performance. Some students who fail the exam even repeat their senior year of high school to take it again; others who can afford it simply choose to study abroad, which can cost up to 15-30 times more than in China.


Here’s a short news clip about students getting ready for and taking the Gao Kao exam.

And here’s what students do AFTER the exam.

For those students who study hard enough and have the smarts to actually make it beyond high school, there are many options for higher learning. There are national universities, as administered by the Chinese Ministry of Education (中华人民共和国教育部 – Zhōng huá rén mín gòng hé guó jiào yù bù). These schools are known as “Universities directly under the MOE” (教育部直属高校 – jiào yù bù zhí shǔ gāo xiào). In addition, there are provincial universities that are administered by the particular province along with other public universitities administered by the municipality. Finally, there has been an influx of privately owned and funded higher learning institutiions in the last decade. With so many options to choose from, which institutions are regarded as the best in the land?

Well, according to this website, which lists the 100 China University Rankings for 2011  (2011中国大学排行榜100强 – 2011 Zhōng guó dà xué pái háng bǎng 100 qiáng), here are the Top 10 Chinese universities, with their location:

1. Peking University (北京大学 – Běi jīng dà xué); 北京 – Běi jīng

2. Tsinghua University (清华大学 – Qīng huá dà xué); 北京 – Běi jīng

3. Zhejiang University (浙江大学 – Zhè jiāng dà xué); 浙江 – Zhè jiāng

4. Fudan University (复旦大学 – Fù dàn dà xué); 上海 – Shàng hǎi

5. Nanjing University (南京大学 – Nán jīng dà xué); 江苏 – Jiāng sū

6. Shanghai Jiaotang University (上海交通大学 – Shàng hǎi jiāo tōng dà xué); 上海 – Shàng hǎi

7. Wuhan University (武汉大学 – Wǔ hàn dà xué); 湖北 – Hú běi

8. Renmin University (中国人民大学 – Zhōng guó rén mín dà xué); 北京 – Běi jīng

9. Huazhong University of Science and Technology (华中科技大学 – Huá zhōng kē jì dà xué); 湖北 – Hú běi

10. Sun Yat-sen University/Zhongshan University (中山大学 – Zhōng shān dà xué);  广东 – Guǎng dōng

I personally have a bias towards the #8 school on the list, Ren Min University, as I teach a Digital Media Production course there. Either way, I’m happy to introduce an American concept to China while working as a teacher in one of the country’s most prestigious higher learning institutions – school spirit! While preparing for the Gao Kao exam can be a traumatic experience for China’s youth, there is still the opportunity to have some fun once they’re actually enrolled in a university. My students, for example, got to learn about American college life in one class, which included a hands-on practice round of beer pong (with iced tea, of course).

Group picture with the 外教!

Beer pong - bridging the gap between East and West!

If you’re interested in studying in China rather than teaching here, never fear, as most of the top universities here have plenty of room for exchange students (留学生 – liú xué shēng). If you can’t make it all the way over here to study Chinese in the Middle Kingdom, at least get started with our Chinese WORD OF THE DAY. Think of it this way – if you learn one new word every day for 10 years, you might even be able to read a Chinese newspaper! 加油!

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About the Author: sasha

Sasha is an English teacher, writer, photographer, and videographer from the great state of Michigan. Upon graduating from Michigan State University, he moved to China and spent 5+ years living, working, studying, and traveling there. He also studied Indonesian Language & Culture in Bali for a year. He and his wife run the travel blog Grateful Gypsies, and they're currently trying the digital nomad lifestyle across Latin America.


  1. Robina:

    nice one, here another, complementing article on this topic – http://thinkingchinese.com/index.php?page_id=164

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