Higher education in China has gone from strength to strength in recent years, with an increasing number of institutes appearing among the top-ranked in the world.
Directives including Project 211 and Project 985 – which aim to improve the standards of the top 100 and 40 Chinese universities respectively – combined with huge national investment has seen China’s reputation in the education sector rocket up the rankings, and in 2014 there were more university students in China than in any other country in the world, a figure that is only expected to rise (UNESCO Institute of Statistics).
And who wouldn’t want to study there? An enormous country, home to more than 20 per cent of the people on Earth, China has one of the fastest developing economies. From cuisine to culture, China offers something completely unique.
The huge country is home to some of the most diverse and stunning landscapes on the planet; from the Rainbow Mountains in Zhangye, to the fishing villages along the coast and even the incomprehensibly vast cities that continue to expand, there’s something in China for everyone.
China’s best institutions
With an ever-increasing number of universities, the choice of places to study in China may seem overwhelming.
However, a number of initiatives from the Chinese government have helpfully categorised the top universities, similarly to the UK’s Russell Group system and the Ivy League in the United States.
Established in 1995, Project 211 was designed to raise the research standards of China’s top universities. Institutions that reach a certain standard are rewarded with significantly increased funds. Today there are 116 higher education institutions that are part of Project 211.
Project 985 was established three years later and uses a very similar strategy, although just 39 universities have received sponsorship as a result of this project and in 2011 it was announced that no new universities would be able to gain membership to this exclusive group.
The final and most selective group is the C9 League, a group of the country’s top nine elite universities who between them receive 10 per cent of China’s national research budget.
Universities in Beijing
Two of the best universities in China are located in the capital Beijing, namely Peking University and Tsinghua University, both of which are consistently ranked among the best higher education institutions in the world. Both have cemented their place in Chinese history, playing pivotal roles in the New Culture Movement in the 1910s-20s and the 1989 Tiananmen Square protest.
Peking University was the first modern national university in China, and since its founding in 1898 it has had an enviable reputation as leading educational institution.
Both Peking University and Tsinghua University are also well-known for their campuses, both of which are situated in Haidian district in northwest Beijing. Both are home to some of the capital’s most prominent and recognised gardens and traditional architecture.
Between them, Peking University and Tsinghua University have produced some of the most influential people in China’s recent history, including the current Party General Secretary Xi Jinping, chief economist of World Bank Justin Yifu Lin, leader of the May Fourth Movement Fu Sinian, and a number of Nobel Prize winners.
Universities in Shanghai
Shanghai, the world’s most populous city, is also host to two of China’s leading universities. Fudan University has a reputation of being one of the most selective universities in the country which is one of the reasons it has maintained its high standing for so long.
In 2000 Fudan University and Shanghai Medical College merged, and today the university is spread across four campuses in downtown Shanghai.
Shanghai’s other elite university, Shanghai Jiao Tong University (SJTU), set up the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) and like Fudan University it has a prestigious reputation. Today SJTU is made up of 29 departments spread over five campuses, known as Minhang, Xuhui, Fahia, Luwan and Qibao. The university’s alumni include former President Jiang Zemin, Nobel Prize laureate Luc Montagnier and founder of China Merchants Bank Wang Shizhen.
The other institutions that make up the C9 League of elite universities are the Harbin Institute of Technology, which has three campuses that are spread across the country and is one of a small number of universities to have created and launched a satellite.
Other top universities in China
Xi’an Jiaoting University specialises in the research and teaching of engineering and technology and is located in central China, while Zhejiang University, home to one of China’s largest academic libraries, is located just over 100 miles from Shanghai.
Nanjing University, in east China, has a reputation as the most selective university in the country and has a world-renowned School of Chinese.
The final member of the C9 League is the University of Science and Technology of China, the newest of China’s university elite, run under the direct authority of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, unlike most other C9 League universities which are led by the Ministry of Education.
Top universities in China 2017
Click each institution to view its full World University Rankings 2016-2017 results