Higher education

Universities, degrees and campus life

Higher education

Higher education in China is continuously changing and developing. There are over 2,000 universities and colleges, with more than six million students in total. China has set up a degree system, including Bachelors, Masters and Doctoral degrees that are open to foreign students.


As a general rule of thumb, Chinese university degrees are very similar to those in the US. Be aware, however, that despite this similarity Chinese degrees might not be recognized by all western employers, and credits from Chinese universities are not always recognized at universities abroad. If you want to pursue your studies in China nonetheless, the following degrees are available:

Undergraduate Program: Students are required to complete the curriculum between 4 to 6 years and reach the designated number of credits. Upon graduation, students will receive a graduation certificate along with a Bachelor's degree.

Master's Program: As an improvement to the Bachelor’s degree, Students are required to complete the curriculum between 2-3 years, reach the designated number of credits, complete a master's thesis and defend it in front of a panel of experts. After completion, graduates will receive a graduation certificate along with the Master's degree.

Doctorate Program: After having received their Master’s degree, students have the choice to habilitate in China. This requires the completion of a curriculum of between 4-6 years, in which the student must conduct research and complete a doctoral thesis, which must be defended in front of a panel of experts. Graduates will receive a graduation certificate with the doctoral degree.

Application procedures

Foreign students who want to study need at least a grade of 6 in the Chinese Proficiency Test (Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi, HSK) that determines the students’ skills in Chinese language. If you only want to enrol in language classes, you don’t need to know any Chinese in the beginning, but you will not be able to visit any other university lectures until you have reached the necessary level of language proficiency. Most foreign students who plan to study subjects other than Chinese language tend to start with a year or two of Mandarin and then move on to other classes.

If you don’t come to China on an exchange programme, you will have to apply directly at the Chinese university you want to study at. There are currently more than 50 Chinese universities that accept foreign students. You will find the complete application and all necessary application forms at their home page and you can usually submit your application on-line.

Chinese university tuitions

Chinese universities are not free, but tuitions are a lot lower than in many other countries (i.e. the U.S.), starting at US$ 3,000 for a year of undergraduate studies. Almost all institutions provide food and board for students on campus. A typical student enrolled in a university lives in a dormitory room that she/he shares with 1 to 7 people, and everyone eats in the dinning halls on campus. If you live on campus, you will also have to pay US$ 1,000-1,500 for your dorm room, and another US$ 1,000 for cafeteria meals.

Most Chinese universities require foreign students to have health insurance. Some universities offer health insurance as an extra service in their price package, but mostly students have to take care of this themselves.

Academic schedule and campus life

In China, the university schedule is divided into two semesters, the autumn semester from September to January and the spring semester from February to June. Summer vacation usually lasts 2 months, winter vacation 4 weeks.

Life in universities is regarded by almost all students as the most colourful period in their life, though some may be discontent with the administration or education quality of their universities. Classes in most universities are take place from early morning (usually 8am) to late evening (usually 10pm), and like in western universities, students select their own class schedule before the beginning of each semester.

The closeness of students, especially crowded dormitories and dinning halls, has become the hotbed for a prospering entertainment culture as well as student organizations of all sorts. Compared with former generations of university students in mainland China, nowadays students enjoy great freedom and diversity of activities both within and outside their campuses.

Further reading

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