The Education Transformation of China

University education in China is skyrocketing.  In 1996 China had less than 1 million freshmen, in 2006 there were over 5 million freshmen.  The freshman class is continuing to grow and university graduates, of course, are just 4 years behind.  About half of the entering students are in a hard science or engineering program.  As a result, China today produces 3 times more engineers than the United States and will quickly overtake the U.S. in total graduates.

Many people worry about what the Chinese education explosion means for
the United States but I am optimistic.  First, as China and other countries grow wealthy the
incentive to invest in R&D is increasing.  If China and India were as wealthy as the U.S. the market for cancer drugs, for example, would be eight times larger than it is today – and a larger market means more new drugs for everyone.

Second, the growth in Chinese education is
increasing the supply of new ideas and that too is a benefit to people around the world.

Surprisingly, China’s education system is being
transformed to a
considerable degree by private forces.  As late as 1999 the Chinese government
paid for most university education but from 2001 onwards tuition and
fees account for more than half of total educational expenditures.

I have drawn much of the data in this post from a fascinating new paper, The Higher Educational Transformation of China and its Global Implications by Li, Whalley, Zhang and Zhao.  The paper has much else of interest.

I will be traveling to China to give a talk at Yunnan University in late June and will report on the transformation as it looks on the ground.


Ummmm - where are the professors coming from to handle the explosive growth? The lab space for the science students? Etc., etc....

More education is not automatically good education.

Tyler says:
As late as 1999 the Chinese government paid for most university education but from 2001 onwards tuition and fees account for more than half of total educational expenditures.

But the abstract says:

Much of the increased spending is focused on elite universities

This is compatible with a relatively few rich families lavishly funding their children's education with the government still funding the vast majority of those new 4 million students educations.

See "Getting the Numbers Right: International Engineering Education in the US, China and India", at

It's among the best efforts I've seen to weigh quality as well as quantity.

No1 should be afraid of higher education away from USA. It is pushug progress wich is benifit of mankind...
only perhaps the peapole who are slow at adopting new ideas and technologies :D

I'd love to flee Amerika for the fresh air of China and will do so as soon as the Chinese stop smoking and spitting all over the place.

The amount of plagiarism is unreal, including "papers" complete with web addresses on the bottom and links in the text. As with other new and growing industries there, the initial quality is low. But it is a net positive and they are improving swiftly.

People smoking everywhere + pollution everywhere + skyrocketing university education = lots of new ideas and better technology to treat lung cancer and reduce pollution

Nice to see that someone is optimistic for a change about China. Recently returned from China and the speed of change is quite remarkable. There are many challenges not least of which is the challenge to the social fabric of rising income inequality.

Look forward to reading this report.

I noticed that there was a post on my RSS feed regarding Obama working on his looking-off-to-the-future pose. There was a pointer to Grant McCracken - where it was noted that this information was from an article in The Onion. So, obviously this was not a real story - but the impression in the Marginal Revolution post was that it was in fact a real story.

And now, that post has been removed. Isn't it normal protocol to update the original post as has been done in the past when more information comes to light? As opposed to dropping it altogether? Many people (myself included) read this blog through an RSS feed and would never have known it was a bogus post unless they do some research on their own...which I reckon one should be doing anyway when reading anything on the internet.

"China's statistics may still be inflated because the definition of an engineer can vary widely from province to province. In some cases, auto mechanics are included. "The numbers seem to include anybody who has studied anything technical,""

"India and China are using inflated engineering numbers because they want to draw more foreign investment, while fearmongers in the U.S. use dubious data either to support their case for protectionism, to lobby for greater government spending on higher education and research, or to justify their offshore investments."

That graph sucks. One could easily set the bottom line to be zero rather than .75 million or so without even changing the scale any.

I wouldn't worry too much. What University did Edison go to? The Wright Brothers?

I suspect China is graduating a huge number of future professors of Engineering Physics.

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I'm sure the students are more engaged in class and that's why they have a higher graduate rate. It's a good idea to get the best motivational speaker to come and speak. They can really engage the students and keep them interested in the topics.

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