The State Council last week announced reform of postgraduate tuition fees throughout the Chinese HE sector. From the 2014/15 academic year, all new postgraduate students will have to pay tuition fees ranging from RMB8k to RMB10k per annum (approx £800 - £1000).
The announcement, following deliberative panels chaired by outgoing Premier Wen Jiabao, signals the end of "free" postgraduate education in China's vast HE sector. Since 2006, the 112 national universities under the direct jurisdiction of the central government have had some latitude in charging fees for admitting Masters and Doctoral students, but this move now extends that to all Chinese universities involved in the delivery of postgraduate.
This will come as a welcome boost to Chinese universities, particularly those universities which are outside the elite Project 211, and/or which are affiliated to provincial education bureaus. The added revenue stream will help Chinese universities to improve teaching and research resources, although they will also be keen to ensure that quality is also enhanced in view of the likely higher demands from fee-paying students.
This year, over 1.8m candidates registered to sit the 2013 Postgraduate National Entrance Examination, held in early January, up from 1.66m students in 2012 and 1.4m in 2011.
Numbers of postgraduate students have risen dramatically over the last 15 or so years. in 1999, a total of 92,200 (Masters 72,300; PhD 19,900) postgrads were registered at Chinese universities. By 2012 that number had risen to 584,416 (Masters 517,200; PhD 67,216).
A rough, back of the envelope calculation would indicate a per annum cash injection to the entire HE sector from PG tuition fees (assuming enrolments are consistent with 2012 figures) rising over a 3 year period of:
2014/2015 = RMB4.7bn
2015/2016 = RMB9.4bn
2016/2017 = RMB10bn
(assuming similar enrolments to 2012, and that Masters continue to be 2yrs, with PhD's also 3yrs. Masters courses run between 2-3 years in China, so the final total for 2016/17 could be between RMB10bn and RMB14.1bn).
Several news sources report that a new system of student loans will be introduced, that PG student numbers will be limited to 450,000 (making the above figures too high - likely revised down to approx RMB4bn, RMB8bn, RMB8.5bn in 2014, 2015 and 2016 respectively), and that a national scholarship system will be established to channel talent to key areas of national research priority.
One would hope that much of these funds will be channeled to raising salaries in the Chinese HE sector in order to train, attract and retain the very best Chinese minds in the HE sector. Though this would necessarily involve other changes to the HE sector research funding mechanisms to encourage independent and collaborative research, rather than the research cabals that exist presently. Though that is perhaps an subject for another day.