Best universities in China

Find out all about China’s top universities, and explore their world university ranking performance

Best universities in
Rankings for Students
September 4 2020
Forbidden City, Beijing


Higher education in China has gone from strength to strength in recent years, with an increasing number of institutions appearing in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2021

Directives including Project 211, Project 985 and the Double First Class University Plan – which aim to improve the standards of the top 100 and top 40 Chinese universities – combined with huge national investment have seen China’s educational reputation rocket.

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And who wouldn’t want to study there? Home to almost 20 per cent of the people on Earth, China has one of the fastest developing economies. From cuisine to culture, China offers a unique experience.

The huge country boasts some of the most diverse and beautiful landscapes on the planet, from the Rainbow Mountains in the Zhangye Danxia National Park to coastal fishing villages and vast cities that continue to expand. There’s something for everyone in China. 

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With an ever increasing number of universities, China may seem overwhelming in its choice of places to study.

However, initiatives from the Chinese government have helpfully categorised the top universities into a system similar to the UK’s Russell Group 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. There have been 112 higher education institutions associated with Project 211.

Project 985 was established three years later and uses a 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 granted membership to this exclusive group.

The most selective group is the C9 League, a group of the country’s top nine elite universities, which between them receive 10 per cent of China’s national research budget.

The most recent initiative is the Double First Class University Plan, which aims to develop a group of elite Chinese universities and individual university departments into world-class institutions and disciplines by the end of 2050. The list includes 42 institutions across the country. 

Top 5 universities in China

1. Tsinghua University

Tsinghua University is located in the Haidian district of northwest Beijing. It was established in 1911. 

It retains much of its traditional architecture, juxtaposed with many buildings built in a Western style, reflecting the historical American influence on the campus.

Tsinghua is a comprehensive research university. Its 20 schools and 54 departments cover disciplines in art, economics, education, engineering, history, management, medicine, law, literature, philosophy and sciences.

In terms of life outside studying, the university has more than 110 student associations covering science and technology, sport, arts and public welfare. 

Many successful people in politics, academia and industry have graduated from Tsinghua University, including two Nobel prizewinners, physicists Tsung-Dao Lee and Chen Ning Yang.  

2. Peking University

Peking University is a member of the C9 league, which is similar to the Ivy League group in the US, and is generally one of the highest ranked institutions in China. 

It was the first modern national university in China, and since its founding in 1898, it has had a reputation as a leading educational institution.

The institution is renowned for its campuses in the Haidian district of northwest Beijing. It is home to some of the capital’s most prominent gardens and traditional architecture. Several gates lead in to campus, with the West Gate being the most well-known for the painted murals on its ceiling. 

The university has established joint degree programmes with Cornell University, Yale University, the London School of Economics and Political Science, Paris School of International Affairs, Waseda UniversitySeoul National University and the University of Tokyo to encourage international student exchanges. 

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3. Fudan University

Fudan University comprises four campuses in downtown Shanghai: Handan, Fenglin, Zhangjiang and Jiangwan.

The university takes a liberal arts approach to teaching, with a number of its courses taught in English. Internationalisation is also a high priority at the institution with global connections and exchange programmes at almost 200 overseas universities including Columbia University, the University of Toronto, the University of SydneyKU Leuven, the University of Manchester and Sciences Po.

Students are also encouraged to go on international exchanges, with about 40 per cent electing to do this. 

The university is extremely selective, with fewer than 0.2 per cent of National College Entrance Examination (gao kao) takers being accepted. 

4. University of Science and Technology of China

The University of Science and Technology of China (USTC) is a national research university in Hefei, Anhui province. It was founded to boost science and technology education in China. 

There are 15 schools, teaching physical sciences, life sciences, software engineering and electro-optical technology, among many other science and technology disciplines.

USTC also has two national labs – the National Synchrotron Radiation Facility and the Hefei National Laboratory for Physical Sciences at the Microscale – the only university in the country to do so.

The institution is also home to a large library, a first-class computer network, and a hospital that treats students, employees and their families as well as providing teaching facilities for medical students. 

5. Zhejiang University

Founded in 1897, Zhejiang University is one of China’s oldest and most selective universities. 

Research at the university covers 12 academic disciplines: agriculture, art, economics, education, engineering, history, law, literature, management, medicine, natural sciences and philosophy. 

A number of research centres are located on campus, including six national engineering research centres, three national key research centres of humanities and social sciences and 13 academies of independent studies. 

The university has strategic partnerships with more than 140 universities in 30 countries worldwide, including Imperial College London, Princeton University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Top universities in China 2021

Click on each institution to see its full World University Rankings 2021 results 

World University Rank 2021  China Rank 2021 University Province/area
 =20  1 Tsinghua University Beijing
 23  2 Peking University Beijing
 =70  3 Fudan University Shanghai
 =87  4 University of Science and Technology of China Anhui
 =94  5 Zhejiang University Zhejiang
 100  6 Shanghai Jiao Tong University Shanghai
 =111  7 Nanjing University Jiangsu
 251–300  =8 Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech) Guangdong
 251–300  =8 Sun Yat-sen University Guangdong
 301–350  =10 Beijing Normal University Beijing
 301–350  =10 Huazhong University of Science and Technology Hubei
 301–350  =10 Wuhan University Hubei
 351–400  =13 Central South University Hunan
 351–400  =13 East China Normal University Shanghai
 351–400  =13 Nankai University Tianjin
 401–500  =16 Harbin Institute of Technology Heilongjiang
 401–500  =16 Hunan University Hunan
 401–500  =16 Shenzhen University Guangdong
 401–500  =16 South China University of Technology Guangdong
 401–500  =16 Tianjin University Tianjin
 401–500  =16 Tongji University Shanghai
 401–500  =16 Xi’an Jiaotong University Shaanxi
 501–600  =23 Beihang University Beijing
 501–600  =23 Beijing University of Chemical Technology Beijing
 501–600  =23 Beijing Institute of Technology Beijing
 501–600  =23 University of Electronic Science and Technology of China Sichuan
 501–600  =23 Northwestern Polytechnical University Shaanxi
 501–600  =23 Renmin University of China Beijing
 501–600  =23 Soochow University Jiangsu
 501–600  =23 Southeast University Jiangsu
 501–600  =23 Southwestern University of Finance and Economics Sichuan
 501–600  =23 Xiamen University Fujian
 501–600  =23 Zhejiang Normal University Zhejiang
 601–800  =34 China Agricultural University Beijing
 601–800  =34 China University of Petroleum, Beijing Beijing
 601–800  =34 Chongqing University Chongqing
 601–800  =34 Dalian University of Technology Liaoning
 601–800  =34 Guangdong University of Technology Guangdong
 601–800  =34 Huazhong Agricultural University Hubei
 601–800  =34 University of International Business and Economics Beijing
 601–800  =34 Jiangsu Normal University Jiangsu
 601–800  =34 Jinan University Guangdong
 601–800  =34 Nanjing Agricultural University Jiangsu
 601–800  =34 Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology Jiangsu
 601–800  =34 Nanjing Medical University Jiangsu
 601–800  =34 Nanjing Tech University Jiangsu
 601–800  =34 Shandong University Shandong
 601–800  =34 Sichuan University Sichuan
 601–800  =34 Southern Medical University Guangdong
 601–800  =34 Xi‘an Jiaotong-Liverpool University Jiangsu
 801–1000  =51 Beijing Jiaotong University Beijing
 801–1000  =51 Capital Medical University Beijing
 801–1000  =51 China University of Geosciences, Beijing Beijing
 801–1000  =51 China University of Geosciences, Wuhan Hubei
 801–1000  =51 China University of Mining and Technology Beijing
 801–1000  =51 East China University of Science and Technology Shanghai
 801–1000  =51 Fuzhou University Fujian
 801–1000  =51 Jiangsu University Jiangsu
 801–1000  =51 Jilin University Jilin
 801–1000  =51 Nanjing Normal University Jiangsu
 801–1000  =51 Northeastern University Liaoning
 801–1000  =51 Northeast Normal University Jilin
 801–1000  =51 NorthWest A&F University Shaanxi
 801–1000  =51 Ocean University of China Shangdong
 801–1000  =51 University of Science and Technology Beijing Beijing
 801–1000  =51 Shanghai University Jiangsu
 801–1000  =51 Shanghai University of Finance and Economics (SUFE) Shanghai
 801–1000  =51 Shanghai Maritime University Shanghai
 801–1000  =51 Shantou University Guangdong
 801–1000  =51 South China Normal University Guangdong
 801–1000  =51 Wenzhou University Zhejiang
 801–1000  =51 Wuhan University of Technology Hubei
 801–1000  =51 Xidian University Shaanxi
 801–1000  =51 Yangzhou University Jiangsu
 801–1000  =51 Zhejiang University of Technology Zhejiang
 1001+  =76 Beijing Forestry University Beijing
 1001+  =76 Beijing University of Technology Beijing
 1001+  =76 Central University of Finance and Economics Beijing
 1001+  =76 China Pharmaceutical University Jiangsu
 1001+  =76 Guangxi University Guagxi
 1001+  =76 Huaqiao University Fujian
 1001+  =76 Jianghan University Hubei
 1001+  =76 Kunming University of Science and Technology Yunnan
 1001+  =76 Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics Jiangsu
 1001+  =76 North China Electric Power University Beijing
 1001+  =76 Northwest University Shaanxi
 1001+  =76 University of South China Hunan
 1001+  =76 Southwest Jiaotong University Sichuan
 1001+  =76 Wenzhou Medical University Zhejiang
 1001+  =76 Xiangtan University Hunan
 1001+  =76 Yanshan University Hebei

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