Higher education in China
In China, higher education is called 高等教育 (gaodeng jiaoyu). Chinese higher education institutions offer 2 types of study programmes:
- degree programmes (bachelor 本科 benke, master 硕士 shuoshi, PhD 博士 boshi);
- non-degree programmes (专科 zhuanke).
Degree programmes may have either a professional or an academic focus. In China students can obtain 3 types of degrees:
Students who graduate receive 2 documents:
- a graduation certificate (毕业证书 biye zhengshu);
- a degree certificate (学位证书 xuewei zhengshu).
Non-degree programmes are study programmes in Chinese higher education that do not lead to an academic degree (such as a bachelor's degree). Universities and other higher education institutions provide these study programmes. They are more practically-oriented than bachelor’s programmes and are called zhuanke in Chinese.
Admission to higher education
Admission to higher education is mainly based on the result of the national entrance examination (高考 gaokao).
Entrance examination: gaokao
Once a year, provincial-level examination authorities conduct the national entrance examination, the gaokao. To take part in the entrance examination, students must have a senior middle school graduation certificate. In general, students with a vocational senior middle school graduation certificate are officially allowed to take the gaokao. However, the entrance examination scores of pupils with this certificate are generally lower than those of pupils with a senior middle school graduation certificate, mainly due to the more limited number of general subjects in the programme. For more information on gaokao-scores, see Secondary education study results.
Gaokao: the 3+X model
From 2003 to 2020, the content of the national entrance examination (gaokao) was based on the so-called 3 + X model:
- The number ‘3’ stands for the number of compulsory examination subjects (Chinese, mathematics and a foreign language).
- The letter 'X' for the following 6 subjects: chemistry, physics, biology, politics, history, and geography.
Every provincial-level examination authority was able to choose its own combination from these 6 subjects. Usually, 3 standard combinations were chosen:
- humanities (3+文科综合), consisting of politics, history, and geography;
- science (3+ 理科综合), consisting of physics, chemistry, and biology); or
- a combination of humanities and science.
Gaokao: the 3+3 model
From 2018 onwards, the provinces are gradually introducing a new model: 3 + 3. The 6 subjects (of the X) are replaced by 3 separate electives. Most provinces have now switched to this model.
With this new model, there is no longer a distinction between the 2 profiles humanities and science. Pupils can now choose from the subjects politics, history, geography, physics, chemistry and biology. They let the choice depend on the admission requirements for the desired degree programme.
Admission without gaokao
It is not always necessary to take the gaokao. There are alternative routes for admission to higher education in China:
- Adult education: when someone passes the National Adult Higher Education Entrance Examination (成人高考 chengren gaokao).
- Baosong: if a student has a baosong (保送) because of extraordinary results. A baosong is a special recommendation from the school to the university of his/her choice.
- Private institution: some private institutions accept all students who can afford the tuition fees.
Graduation certificate from a non-degree programme (zhuanke)
Students conclude a non-degree programme (zhuanke) with exams for a Graduation certificate.
- : 2 or 3 years.
- Content: technical, profession-oriented subjects and usually an internship and/or final thesis.
- Admission requirements: a vocational senior middle school graduation certificate or a senior middle school graduation certificate and an entrance examination.
- Function of the diploma: work. After completing a zhuanke programme, students can also continue studying for a Bachelor degree certificate via what is known as a‘top-up’ programme:
- 3 years of additional study following a 2-year zhuanke programme; or
- 2 years of additional study following a 3-year zhuanke programme.
In Chinese this pathway is called 专升本 zhuanshengben: upwards from a zhuanke programme to a benke programme.
- Diploma: Graduation certificate (毕业证书 biye zhengshu), also translated as Junior college diploma.
The official length of the full-time programme (not part-time) without study delay.
We compare a Graduation certificate obtained after a 2-year non-degree programme (zhuanke) to 2 years of .
Higher professional education (hoger beroepsonderwijs, HBO). Dutch higher education distinguishes between research-oriented higher education (wetenschappelijk onderwijs, WO) and higher professional education (hoger beroepsonderwijs, HBO). HBO is more oriented towards professions in specific areas than WO, and has traditionally been offered at universities of applied sciences (hogescholen).
We compare a Graduation certificate obtained after a 3-year non-degree programme (zhuanke) to 3 years of HBO.
Bachelor degree certificate
Students obtain a Bachelor degree certificate (学士学位 xueshi xuewei) after a 4-year undergraduate programme (本科 benke).
- Duration: 4 years. Exceptions: 5 years for programmes in medicine, traditional Chinese medicine, architecture and some engineering and music programmes.
- Content: general subjects (such as English and mathematics), compulsory subjects and electives. And usually an internship and/or thesis.
- Admission requirements: senior middle school graduation certificate + entrance examination (gaokao).
- Function of the diploma: access to master's programmes or work.
- Diploma: Bachelor degree certificate (学士学位证书 xueshi xuewei zhengshu) and graduation certificate (毕业证书 biye zhengshu).
Please note: in some cases a degree certificate is not awarded, for example because students:
- failed the Chinese College English Test (CET), possibly more than once;
- did not finish their thesis;
- did not obtain the required final average.
We compare a Bachelor degree certificate to an HBO bachelor’s degree or 2 years of . This depends on the content of the study programme.
Research-oriented higher education (wetenschappelijk onderwijs, WO). Dutch higher education distinguishes between research-oriented higher education (wetenschappelijk onderwijs, WO) and higher professional education (hoger beroepsonderwijs, HBO). WO is oriented more towards theory and research than HBO, and has traditionally been offered at research universities (universiteiten).
Master degree certificate
Students can obtain a Master degree certificate (硕士学位 shuoshi xuewei) at both higher education institutions and research institutions.
- Duration: 2, 2½ or 3 years.
- Content: compulsory subjects and electives. A final thesis or project and possibly an internship. Half of the time is for coursework (including examinations) and the other half for writing the final thesis.
- Admission requirements: a Bachelor degree certificate and an entrance examination, and candidates may not be older than 35 years of age.
- Function of the diploma: access to PhD programmes or work.
- Diploma: Master degree certificate (硕士学位证书 shuoshi xuewei zhengshu) and graduation certificate (毕业证书 biye zhengshu).
Please note: students who only successfully pass the coursework section do not receive a master degree certificate, they just receive a graduation certificate (毕业证书 biye zhengshu).
We compare a Master degree certificate to an HBO or a WO master's degree. This depends on the content of the study programme.
Master degree certificatevia alternative route
Students can also obtain a Master degree certificate via an alternative route: based on an equivalent educational background (同等学力 tongdeng xueli). The student must possess a bachelor’s degree and at least 3 years of relevant work experience.
Students must write a thesis and need to pass:
- a national examination in a foreign language;
- a national examination in research methods;
- examinations in curricular subjects to be determined by the university itself.
Students receive exemptions based on skills already obtained in the field of education, research, and specific professional knowledge.
After passing all the examinations and successfully completing the thesis, students obtain a Master degree certificate and a transcript with the completed examination subjects. They do not receive a graduation certificate (毕业证书 biye zhengshu).
The letter T (of 同等学力 tongdeng xueli) is placed before the reference number on the degree certificate. There is also a similar procedure for obtaining a PhD degree.
Doctor degree certificate (PhD)
With a master's degree, students can be admitted to a PhD programme.
- Duration: 3-5 years.
- Content: 1 year of coursework, writing and defending a doctoral thesis.
- Admission requirements: a Master degree certificate, an entrance examination and a recommendation from at least 2 professors or (senior) lecturers in the field; candidates may not be older than 40 years of age. Only outstanding students can also to take a combined master’s/PhD programme (硕博连读 shuobo liandu). They are neither awarded a separate master’s degree nor required to sit an entrance examination to be admitted to the doctorate programme.
- Diploma: Doctor degree certificate (博士学位证书 boshi xuewei zhengshu) and graduation certificate (毕业证书 biye zhengshu).