Traditional Chinese culture places a strong emphasis on education, so there is no lack of options for those who wish to receive quality education in China.
China's universities offer many different types of courses, and some of them are regularly ranked among the top universities in the world. China's most prestigious general universities are Peking University (北京大学) in Beijing and Fudan University (复旦大学) in Shanghai, while Tsinghua University (清华大学) in Beijing and Shanghai Jiaotong University (上海交通大学) in Shanghai are the top schools for technical subjects. Of course there are many others, and some of those are excellent as well.
The number of foreign students in China was nearly half a million in 2018, and growing.
There are many universities in China which vary widely in their quality. The following are some of the more reputable universities in China that are internationally recognized, sorted by city.
- Peking University (北京大学 běi jīng dà xué) — China's most prestigious general university, which also houses China's top medical school.
- Tsinghua University (清华大学 qīng huá dà xué) — China's top university for technical and scientific subjects.
- Beijing Normal University (北京师范大学 běi jīng shī fàn dà xué) — the word "normal" refers to its original founding purpose to train school teachers.
- Fudan University (复旦大学 fù dàn dà xué)
- Shanghai Jiao Tong University (上海交通大学 shàng hǎi jiāo tōng dà xué)
- Tongji University (同济大学 tóng jì dà xué) — founded by the German government, it is still home to China's foremost German language department.
- East China Normal University (华东师范大学 huá dōng shī fàn dà xué)
- Sun Yat-sen University (中山大学 zhōng shān dà xué) — founded by Sun Yat-sen (孙中山 sūn zhōngshān), the founding president of the Republic of China
- Zhejiang University (渐江大学 zhè jiāng dà xué)
- Nankai University (南开大学 nán kāi dà xué)
- Nanjing University (南京大学 nán jīng dà xué)
- Wuhan University (武汉大学 wǔ hàn dà xué)
- Harbin Institute of Technology (哈尔滨工业大学 hā ěr bīn gōng yè dà xué)
Universities accept students who have achieved the minimum of a high-school education for courses in the Chinese language. These courses usually last 1 or 2 years. Students are given certificates after they complete their course. Students who do not speak Chinese and want to study further in China are usually required to complete a language-training course.
Undergraduate degrees usually require 4 to 5 years of study. International students will have classes together with Chinese students. Taking each student's past education into account, some classes can be added or removed accordingly. Students will receive a Bachelor's degree after passing the necessary exams and completing a thesis.
Master's degrees are granted after 2 to 3 years of study. Oral examinations are also taken as well as written exams and a postgraduate thesis.
Prestigious programs include Yenching Academy at Peking University and Schwarzman Scholars at Tsinghua University, both in Beijing.
Usually 4 to 5 years of study are needed to obtain a PhD.
Research is usually conducted independently by the student under the supervision of an assigned tutor. Any surveys, experiments, interviews, or visits that a research scholar has to make need to be arranged beforehand and authorised.
Double First Class University Plan
The w:Double First Class University Plan or Double Top University Plan (Chinese: 双一流; pinyin: shuāngyīliú) is a Chinese government plan conceived in 2015 to comprehensively develop a group of elite Chinese universities and individual university departments into world class universities and disciplines by the end of 2050.
The full list of the sponsored universities and disciplines was published in September 2017, which includes 42 first class universities (36 Class A schools and 6 Class B schools) and 465 first class disciplines (spread among 140 schools including the first class universities).
Short-term training courses
Short-term courses are now offered in many areas such as Chinese literature, calligraphy, economics, architecture, Chinese law, traditional Chinese medicine, art and sports. Courses are offered during the holidays as well as term time.
Foreign students can continue their studies and obtain Master's or doctoral degrees in China's universities. Some universities offer courses taught in foreign languages, but most courses will be in Chinese. You will need to demonstrate sufficient proficiency in Chinese before you can enroll on such a course. You do this by passing the HSK test (汉语水平考试 Hànyǔ Shuǐpíng Kǎoshì), the official way to certify your skills on a Basic, Intermediate or Advanced level. The test involves reading, writing and listening, but no oral. See the HSK homepage for dates and locations.
The HSK has six levels: levels 1 and 2 are very basic, whereas levels 3 and 4 require significant language ability to pass. Passing level 5 is considered sufficient to enroll in a Chinese-language program at a university, but HSK 5 students often find it very hard to keep up in a class with native speakers. Level 6 is supposed to be near-native ability; in practice it isn't, but it probably indicates something close to fluency. Passing a high level can also make it a bit easier to get a job in China. Another test, the HSKK, tests speaking, but not as many people take it.
Classes geared towards the HSK are available for foreigners living or studying in China, and the test is offered at many locations both in China and abroad.
- See also: Learning languages abroad
There are many opportunities to learn Chinese in China, including university courses and special programs. Scholarships may be available, from your home country or the Chinese government. In any city with a sizeable expat community, you can also find private classes, which you can take on the side while working in China.
Some people get a job in China with the hope that they'll be able to pick up Chinese naturally along the way. This isn't a great idea—difficulties with tones, characters, and to a lesser extent grammar mean that it's difficult to progress in the language without a solid foundation from a skilled teacher. A better idea is to start by taking a class (one semester or a one-month intensive course might be enough if your teacher is good) to get a good foundation.
Consider your destination carefully. You'll learn much faster if your friends or coworkers and people on the street are speaking Mandarin to each other. This basically means a northern city (like Beijing, Harbin, or Xi'an) or a city with huge numbers of residents from different parts of the country (like Shanghai or Shenzhen). Be aware that migrant cities like Shenzhen will have a variety of nonstandard accents, which is good for improving your listening at a more advanced level, but might make it harder to improve your own pronunciation. Also consider studying in Taiwan—this is the way to go if you want to learn traditional characters instead of simplified, or if you want to learn Mandarin somewhere with more civil liberties than the PRC. See Taiwan#Learn.
Some basic information to get you started is in the Chinese phrasebook.
Not many people come to China to learn local dialects. Some do learn Cantonese (especially in Hong Kong and Macau), but in mainland China, most foreign students learn Mandarin, which is by far the most broadly useful. That said, if you're interested, in some areas there are also some classes to learn the local dialect; both private classes and classes conducted by the universities. For instance, you can find Cantonese classes in Guangzhou, Minnan classes in Xiamen, and so on. However, as most of these classes are geared towards migrants from other parts of China rather than foreigners, it may be hard to find a class conducted in English.
If you can already read Standard Chinese comfortably, a variety of textbooks for learning dialects are available on Taobao. Their quality varies, of course.
While learning dialects is generally not necessary to communicate, it can be helpful in building better rapport with locals in areas where Mandarin is not the main local language. It can also be useful for those with a keen interest in Chinese literature, as many ancient Chinese poems sound better in specific dialects than in standard Mandarin, and many of the dialects also have their own unique sayings, idioms and proverbs.
Learning ethnic minority languages
The Chinese government claims to support the preservation of ethnic minority languages, and there are numerous opportunities for studying these languages in Chinese universities. For instance, you can find courses in Korean and Manchu at universities in Northeast China, Mongolian in Inner Mongolia, Tibetan in Tibet, and Uyghur and Kazakh in Xinjiang. The downside is that these courses are usually conducted in Chinese, and it can be difficult to find classes conducted in English.
In order to promote its culture and language, the Chinese government offers scholarships to foreigners who want to study in China. Partial scholarships will cover tuition fees only. Full scholarships cover pretty much everything, including books, rent, some medical coverage, and a monthly allowance for food and expenses. Although studying pins you down to a specific city and limits the time you can spend travelling, a scholarship is a great way to cut through some red tape, get a Residence Permit and, if you're lucky, live in China practically for free.
To enquire about scholarships, directly contact the embassy in your area, or ask around at universities and language schools that have China-related courses. Scholarships are distributed by quota to each country therefore you will be competing against your fellow citizens, not against the entire world. The procedure varies from country to country, but normally requires the following paperwork:
- authorised copies of your highest (preferably university) degree, including exam scores;
- two letters of recommendation
- proof of a full health check-up (blood-test, ECG, X-Ray, etc.)
- your reason for study
- plenty of passport-sized photos
All of this is shipped by the embassy to Beijing, which then decides who is accepted, where, and under what conditions. Applications are usually decided by the end of March, but the answer may not come until as late as August, with classes starting in September.
If all goes well, this will get you a letter of acceptance by the university of your choice, plus a visa allowing you to stay in China for about two months. Once in China, you will have to do the medical tests all over again, and upgrade the visa to a residence permit. This is where being part of a university comes in handy, as they should be able to handle all of the paperwork, going so far as to bring a medical team on campus to check you up — more preferable to running from police station to hospital to consulate, especially if you don't speak Chinese!
When all is said and done, you will have a residence permit that lets you stay one year in China, lets you leave and enter the country as you want, and a fair ability to travel during weekends, holidays, and the occasional class-skipping stint.
In general, Chinese Scholarship Council scholarships are not particularly competitive for applicants coming from developed countries such as Canada and the United States. However, they are quite popular with students from much of sub-Saharan Africa, meaning that competition for places is stiff if you come from that region.
Only apply for scholarships through official channels. Beware of "application agent" scammers who will happily take your money and give you a useless fake acceptance letter, which you may only discover isn't genuine when you try to apply for your visa.