There are more than 2500 universities in China, about 500 of them accept foreign students. Chinese universities have already become the first in the world in terms of the number of scientific publications and their citations, overtaking the previous leader — the USA[1]. With such growth rates, Chinese universities may soon become an educational mecca not only in Asia but also worldwide. So far, the prices for education in the best universities here are 2-3 times lower than in prestigious institutions in America and Europe.

List of the best universities in China

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Advantages of Chinese universities

  • Attention to language learning. Most of the educational programs at Chinese universities are conducted in Mandarin. To make it easier for foreigners to adapt, many universities offer international students to take a preparatory language course or take additional classes in parallel with their studies. Even if after graduation a person does not work in his specialty, a good Chinese proficiency will open many doors for him.
  • Research activities. In recent years, two dozen science parks with laboratories equipped with the latest technology have been created in large cities of China. Teachers and students can implement their own research projects and build an academic career — all conditions have been created to accommodate this. In 2016, China even managed to surpass the United States in the number of published scientific articles.[1]
  • Equipped campuses. The campuses of Chinese universities are located in the most beautiful places: for example, the campus of Peking University is located on the territory of the imperial gardens and is a tourist attraction. The campus of the China Academy of Art stands right on the shores of Lake Xihu, one of the most picturesque lakes in the world. Another important fact: the campus of a Chinese university, even a small one, always contains everything you need to study and work. The campuses are equipped in such a way that students can stay inside them for weeks without needing to leave.
  • Affordable cost. Tuition fees at Chinese universities remain affordable for students despite the growing popularity of local universities. This fact favorably distinguishes them from the European and American educational institutions. On average, students spend 192 USD per month on accommodation and meals[2]. International students with high academic performance are also awarded scholarships from various foundations and private companies, as well as government grants.
  • Extracurricular activities. Studying at a Chinese university is a unique cultural experience for a foreigner. Along with the study of the Chinese language, the student can attend calligraphy courses (they can be found in every major university), study the art of dance, painting, and Chinese cuisine.

Disadvantages of Chinese universities

  • Low level of autonomy. All universities in China are centrally controlled by the state. The relevant ministries not only fund the universities but also define the key components of the curriculum. Administrative candidates are usually nominated by government bodies from among the party members. This also applies to private universities. All study materials are tested before implementation, and bachelor’s students must study ideological subjects.
  • Private universities. Due to excessive government control, private universities cannot freely implement their own methods and modernize the standard higher education. Most of the private institutions are still an alternative for those students who were unable to enroll in prestigious public institutions. Progress in this sector is very slow, and local private universities still have a long way to go before they reach the American level.
  • Corruption. Chinese universities can only physically admit two-thirds of all high school graduates. Because of this in universities with particularly high competition, cases of corruption have become more frequent[3]. Wealthy parents are willing to go to any lengths to secure a place in the best universities in the country for their children. This is unlikely to affect foreigners since foreign students are associated with prestige at any Chinese university. However, the very fact of widespread corruption is unsettling.
  • Few English-language programs. As of 2020, less than 30% of programs in Chinese universities are conducted in English. Moreover, it is advised to choose only large and well-known universities for such studies. At other universities, as a rule, teachers have rather mediocre language proficiency. For that reason, many choose Hong Kong over China, where the English language has the official status.
  • Strict discipline. Teachers at universities in China monitor attendance on a daily basis and may not allow latecomers to attend classes. If a student has several absences without a valid reason, he will not be allowed to examinations or even can be expelled. Such methods may seem rather harsh, but they force students to focus on the educational process. In addition, the attitude towards foreigners is usually more loyal.
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Admission requirements in Chinese universities

Type of studiesAgeDurationMin. costAvg. costLanguage proficiencyExams
Language course161 year2,900 USD/year5,000 USD/yearBeginner-
Bachelor's184 years2,000 USD/year4,000 USD/yearUpper-Intermediate (B2)HSK 4 / IELTS 6.0
Master's20+2 years2,300 USD/year5,000 USD/yearUpper-Intermediate (B2)HSK 5 / IELTS 6.5
MBA20+1-2 years4,200 USD/year14,000 USD/yearUpper-Intermediate (B2)HSK 5 / IELTS 6.5
Doctoral20+3-5 years4,400 USD/year5,500 USD/yearAdvanced (C1)HSK 6 / IELTS 6.5

The data in the table are approximate. The exact information must be specified on the website of the selected university.

You can enter Chinese universities if your country has an 11-year secondary education system. If the applicant is still under 18 when the studies commence, a legal guardian in the country must be assigned. For older students, many institutions also set an upper age limit: 30–45 years old, depending on the level of education.

The majority of universities in China have approximately the same requirements for applicants since the admission policy is regulated by the state. Twice a year, in spring and autumn, you can submit an application digitally on the website of the selected university. The legalization of documents is usually not required: a certified translation into Chinese or English is sufficient. However, the requirements may vary depending on the country where the documents were issued.

Mandatory admission criteria: a certificate with an average score of at least 3.7 (out of 5) and an HSK 4 or IELTS 6.0 certificate, depending on the language of instruction.

Documents required for admission to Chinese universities

Types of universities in China

  • Universities make up the largest group of higher education institutions. There are over 2000 accredited universities in the country. We can additionally highlight technological, pedagogical, and art universities. Most of them are state-owned, but at the beginning of the 20th century, the number of private universities began to grow: now there are about 700 of them. As a rule, each university has a main profile, with an emphasis on certain specialties. For example, future doctors strive to get into Fudan University and Tongji University, and the best liberal arts education is traditionally can be found at Shanghai University. However, almost every university has a long list of programs to choose from, ranging from biology to marketing.

  • Institutes, for the most part, also have the status of universities, but unlike them, they rarely offer programs above the bachelor’s level. Also here you can get a two-year education, similar to the associate level. Most often, these universities are highly specialized. For example, there are separate institutes of sports, engineering, transport, etc. The number of such educational institutions in China is dwindling: many institutes are expanding and changing their name to "university" or become a part of a larger university.
  • Sino-foreign universities — a project of the Ministry of Education of China on cooperation with other countries. The country already has universities working in partnership with renowned institutions such as NYU, Berkeley, Sorbonne, and others. The studies partly or completely follow a foreign program, implement research projects together with foreign colleagues, and offer an exchange semester in partner universities.

Colleges in China

In addition to universities, there are about 1400 different colleges and technical schools in China where you can get vocational education. Most of these institutions operate independently, and some are attached to universities. The latter, also offer undergraduate programs. Studying here is primarily focused on the employment of young Chinese in such popular areas as agriculture, finance, medicine, tourism, transport, etc. Many colleges gladly accept foreigners if they speak Chinese.

After a minimum of 9 years of school education in your home country, you can enter a "youth college" (dazhuan), and after 11 years — a higher vocational technical school (gaodeng zhiye jishu xueyuan). The study duration is about 3 years. Depending on the length and complexity of the program, college graduates receive certificates or diplomas. These documents are ranked below the bachelor's degree, so their holders can enroll in the first year of a university. In rare cases, vocational schools have an agreement with the university, thanks to which graduates have the opportunity to immediately enroll in the 2nd or 3rd year of a bachelor’s program.

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Public and private universities in China

Public universities in China are the majority. They all receive funding from the government and the country's Ministry of Education. However, only the leading universities from the C9 League are fully supported by the state. In the second half of the 20th century, with the advent of communism, almost all universities in China were nationalized. Because of this, public universities are still the largest, most popular, and prestigious. The majority of the local applicants tend to go there. In 2021, 50 state-owned Chinese universities entered the world QS ranking. Tsinghua University is ahead of such renowned private universities in the United States as Penn, Yale, Cornell, and Columbia University, while Peking University has overtaken the University of California and Johns Hopkins University.

Private universities began to appear in China again in the late 90s during the education reform. Over the next 20 years, about 700 educational institutions, independent from the state, appeared in the country. However, they are independent only financially: private universities exist at the expense of tuition fees and sponsorship from private foundations. Otherwise, they are controlled by the state: the central government determines the general policy for private education, and the provincial governments exercise quality control. Not all private universities have the right to issue state diplomas.

In general, private universities in the PRC are not yet able to compete with state universities, which continue to play a dominant role in the country's higher education system.

Top Universities in China

  • Tsinghua University. The university was founded in 1911, it was built on the site of the former imperial park. Today, Tsinghua University is the strongest research institute that prepares specialists in the field of technical and natural sciences. In the world QS ranking 2021, the university took the 15th position, surpassing 4 American Ivy League universities. In the QS Asia ranking, the university takes the 4th position.
  • Peking University. Beida (short for the Chinese Běijīng Dàxué) is rightfully considered the main university in China. It was founded in 1898 and is the educational and socio-political center of the country. It was here that the idea of ​​Chinese communism was born in the last century. Currently, Peking University prepares highly qualified specialists in the field of innovative technologies.
  • Fudan University. Founded in 1905 in Shanghai, Fudan University is one of the most prestigious educational institutions in China. The university conducts active research activities in the field of IT-technologies and mechanical engineering, skillfully balancing between scientific and profitable commercial projects.
  • Shanghai Jiao Tong University. One of the oldest universities in China, founded in 1896 in Shanghai. Teaching here is conducted in Chinese, French, and English. Jiao Tong University is renowned for its programs in mechanical engineering, computer engineering, electrical power engineering, and thermophysics. Local research projects are focused on the needs of Chinese society, so the university carries out research in the fields of molecular biology, mechanical engineering, nanotechnology, and biomedicine.
  • University of Science and Technology of China. The university was founded in 1958 under the supervision of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing. Later, during the 1970 Cultural Revolution, it was moved to Hefei City. The University of Science and Technology is one of the strongest technical universities in the country. It trains specialists in the field of chemistry, physics, nuclear technology, mechanical engineering, and information technology.

Groups and associations of Chinese universities

  • C9 League — the union of the 9 best universities in the country, China's response to the US Ivy League. This group of universities was created in the framework of the government initiative Project 985, the purpose of which was to develop Chinese universities and increase their scientific reputation in the world. C9 League institutions receive 10% of the country's research budget and produce 20% of all academic publications. The group consists of:

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  • Chinese Academy of Sciences — the highest scientific organization of the PRC. The Academy is China's leading scientific research center for the natural sciences. The organization has branches throughout the country. In total, more than 60000 scientists work here. Within the CAS, several commercial structures were created, including Lenovo. The academy includes many research centers and institutes, as well as two universities: the University of Science and Technology of China and the University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
  • Association of Sino-Russian Technical Universities — a community of 29 Chinese and 34 Russian technical universities. Member universities of the association conduct joint research, promote the development of engineering education standards in the two countries, organize student exchange programs, and attract new investments. There are also similar associations of transport and medical universities.
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Free universities in China

Foreigners cannot study at Chinese universities for free. However, there are many educational grants and scholarships in the country. The Chinese government, regional governments, universities themselves, and third parties willingly offer financial support to thousands of overseas students every year.

Often, payments cover the full cost of tuition and living, they can also award money for monthly expenses in the amount of 200-400 USD. The conditions for obtaining a scholarship are usually more than doable, but there are a lot of applicants. Good academic performance in the previous place of study and knowledge of the Chinese language at a level not lower than HSK 4 is important. Grants are provided at all stages of education from undergraduate to doctoral studies. You can find out more about the application requirements and deadlines on the official portal Campus China.

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Interesting facts about universities in China

  • Until the 50s of the XX century, more than 80% of the population of China was illiterate[4]. Today, thanks to numerous educational reforms, 99% of children in the Middle Kingdom go to school, most of them continue their studies at a university[5].
  • Chinese astronomers made an unusual gift to the Peking University on its 100th anniversary: ​​the large asteroid 7072 Beijingdaxue, which translates as "Peking University".
  • Chinese students spend a lot of time in university libraries, not only because of the heavy academic workload. The fact is that the conditions in the hostels of local students are very bad: up to 6 people live in one room, there is no central heating even in winter. Therefore, libraries, and cafes, often become centers of attraction. They are always warm and cozy.
  • In Chinese universities, it is considered absolutely normal to eat during lectures. And it is not just coffee with chocolate, but a full dinner with a bowl of noodles and a couple of rice cakes.
  • A team of researchers from Tsinghua University has created a unique liquid metal. It was named "The Terminator" due to its ability to move and change shape. The melting point of the metal is only 15 degrees Celsius. Scientists believe that in the future, the material will be actively used in robotics.
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