People's Republic of China

New policy measures needed to continue tertiary reform without reducing quality, says OECD


05/03/2009 – Like many other countries, China faces the dilemma of expanding its tertiary education system within a tight fiscal constraint. Special challenges in China include the unprecedented scale in student numbers and the rapidly rising aspirations of students and parents for upward social mobility through education.

Given the capacity limits, particularly the availability of appropriately qualified teaching personnel, new policy measures are needed to continue expanding tertiary education without reducing quality. Gradually expanding participation in tertiary education and improving quality will require increased government and private spending, improved operational efficiency and more equitable distribution of resources. China will need to spend a higher proportion of its rising GDP on tertiary education.

These are among the conclusions of an independent review of tertiary education in China led by the OECD. China is one of 24 countries which participated in a major OECD review designed to assist countries to understand how the organisation, management and delivery of tertiary education can help them achieve their social and economic goals.

Other key conclusions of OECD Reviews of Tertiary Education: China include:

  • A major task is to clarify the mission of all types of tertiary education institutions to meet varying needs, while ensuring consistency in the performance standards of institutions to improve equity and efficiency.
  • Opportunities for access and success are unequally distributed. This reflects differences in economic circumstances of regions, and the capacity and quality of their primary and secondary school systems.
  • China must take particular care to balance the need to build research-intensive globally competitive universities and the need to build the capacity of other institutions to contribute to national and regional needs.
  • Educational authorities and institutions should engage more directly with employers, to identify changing job requirements and monitor employers’ expectations of graduates and satisfaction with their performance.
  • There must be a higher level of investment in the national quality assurance system and a more nationally consistent approach to quality control.
  • Further enlargement of China’s national innovation system will require continuing efforts to build basic research capacity in selected universities, increase the pool of science and technology researchers and promote stronger processes of knowledge exchange.
  • The internationalisation of tertiary education and research in China is changing the nature of educational demand as well as supply, leading to new pressures on national policy frameworks, including qualifications recognition, tuition pricing, quality assurance and consumer protection.

Members of the review team included Michael Gallagher (Director of Policy and Planning, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia); Abrar Hasan (former Head of the Education and Training Policy Division, OECD Directorate for Education; Mary Canning (Member, Higher Education Authority of Ireland, formerly Education Specialist with the World Bank); Howard Newby (Vice-Chancellor-designate, University of Liverpool, United Kingdom); Lichia Saner-Yiu (President, Centre for Socio-Eco-Nomic Development [CSEND], Switzerland; and Ian Whitman (Head, Programme for Co-operation with Non-Member Economies, OECD Directorate for Education).

The OECD drew upon this report on China and reports on the other participating countries to prepare an international comparative report on tertiary education, Tertiary Education for the Knowledge Society (OECD, 2008). The country reports are available on the OECD website at

For further information, journalists are invited to contact Susan Copeland (tel. (33) 1 45 24 97 34) in the OECD’s Directorate for Education.


The free PDF e-book is available here: OECD Reviews of Tertiary Education: China


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