Educational institutions and study programmes in China

Below, we explain what types of educational institutions and study programmes there are in China. We also explain how we check whether these are accredited and/or recognised. We check the and/or to make sure that the quality is sufficient. We give the necessary information per educational sector.

Secondary education | diplomas

These are the official upper secondary education diplomas:

See Secondary education documents for a short explanation of the documents that students receive.

Higher education | educational institutions

Students can take higher education programmes (高等教育 gaodeng jiaoyu) at institutions called ‘university’, ‘college’ or ‘school’. A distinction is drawn between:

  • regular institutions; and
  • adult education institutes.

Regular institutions

Regular institutions are those that admit students based on the national entrance exam (高考 gaokao). They also include:

  • research institutes
  • independent colleges
  • private education institutions

Research institutes

These are prominent national umbrella organisations that incorporate multiple research institutes:

  • Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS);
  • Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS);
  • Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS);
  • Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences (CAGS).

The degree certificates and graduation certificates they issue are nationally accredited. Rather than falling under the Ministry of Education, each of these institutions belongs to the ministry governing the relevant field of research.

Independent colleges

Independent colleges (独立学院 duli xueyuan) are institutes that work in conjunction with social organisations and private institutes. They are not subsidised by the government, and students therefore pay higher tuition fees than at public education institutions.

In 2008, independent colleges also became authorised to issue their own bachelor degree certificates. Before that time, these certificates and degrees were issued by the university with which the independent college was affiliated.

Private education institutions

Private (民办 minban) education institutions are those run by organisations such as businesses, institutions or other bodies. They are not subsidised by the government.

Certificates and diplomas issued by private institutions:

  • Accredited private institutions can issue graduation certificates and degree certificates recognised by the Ministry of Education.
  • Non-accredited private institutions issue a diploma known as an ‘institute diploma’. Their students can only obtain an official degree certificate by completing a national exam, just like the students wishing to sit the exam after self-study (for further information, please see below ‘Independent study’).

Adult education institutes

Institutes of adult education admit students who did not pass the national entrance exam (高考 gaokao) for higher education. The government has declared the level of graduation certificates obtained via adult education (成人教育 chengren jiaoyu) to be equivalent to that of the graduation certificates obtained at regular institutions.

Among other ways, these programmes are offered via:

  • radio and television, by organisations known as ‘radio and television universities’ (广播电视大学 guangbo dianshi daxue);
  • evening classes or correspondence courses run by regular institutions;
  • independent study.

There are 3 levels of adult education:

  • secondary vocational education (中专 zhongzhuan);
  • non-degree higher education (专科 zhuanke);
  • undergraduate education (bachelor, 本科 benke).

Independent study

When completing independent study (自学 zixue), students can take exams in various subjects twice per year. They receive unit certificates for each subject completed. There are no entrance requirements for taking the exams. Via independent study, students can complete a non-degree programme or a bachelor's programme.

Once all units of study are complete, students receive a graduation certificate, which is stamped by the provincial independent study committee, and sometimes also by the institution that administered the exams.

Graduation certificates obtained via independent study are considered equivalent to comparable diplomas obtained via regular higher education.

Like students from non-accredited private institutions, independent-study students can obtain an official degree certificate by taking a national exam.

Checking the accreditation of higher education institutions

The Ministry of Education accredits all higher education institutions. The Academic Degree Committee, which is part of the China State Council (the highest-ranking public body in China), accredits all degree programmes taught by higher education institutions. The Committee decides whether the degree programmes it has reviewed satisfy the quality requirements for the conferral of bachelor’s degrees, master's degrees or doctorates. See also this government information: Regulations on Academic Degrees of the People’s Republic of China.

Higher education | Project 211, Project 285, Double First Class

The Chinese government has invested in various projects to improve the quality of education. There are 3 projects in which selected higher education institutions receive extra money from the Chinese government. With this support, institutions must improve their education in order to compete internationally on quality.

  • Project 211 and Project 985 (both closed in 2017);
  • Double First Class (双一流 shuang yiliu).

Project 211

In 1992, the Chinese government introduced ‘Project 211’ (211工程, 211 gongcheng). The number ‘21’ represents the 21st century, and the ‘1’ stands for the 100 institutions selected for participation in the project. The project was closed in 2017.

On the website of the Ministry of Education, you can find a overview of Project 211 institutions. Please note: the website is available in Chinese only. (in Chinese). You can request an overview of the English and Chinese names of these institutions via our contact form.

Project 985

In May 1998, the Chinese government introduced ‘Project 985’ (985 工程 985 gongcheng) both as part of and as a follow-up to Project 211. The project awarded a number of prominent institutions participating in Project 211 additional financial support from the government, with the aim of generating first-class research institutes. Project 985 was closed in 2017.

On the website of the Ministry of Education, you can find an overview of Project 985 institutions (in Chinese only). These institutions are also included in the overview of Project 211 institutions (see above).

Double First Class

After the completion of Project 211 and Project 985, the Chinese Ministry of Education has made a new selection of institutions called Double First Class (双 一流 shuang yiliu). In 2017, the ministry made a distinction between First Class Universities and First Discipline Universities. From 2022 onwards, they no longer make this distinction. The universities are now called: Double First Class Universities.

On the website of the Chinese Ministry of Education, there are 2 overviews:

Please note: these overviews are available in Chinese only. Via our contact form, you can request the translated overview of the Double First Class Universities in 2022.

Higher education | foreign study programmes in China

The Private Education Promotion Law (in effect since September 2003) made it possible for a foreign institution to offer programmes in China through joint ventures with Chinese higher education institutions. On behalf of the Ministry of Education, the Chinese-Foreign Cooperation in Running Schools (CRS) publishes lists of recognised degree programmes provided through partnerships with foreign partners for higher education (bachelor/master/PhD). In this way it is possible for Chinese students to obtain a foreign degree in their own country.