In pure bulk, the numbers behind China’s expansion are startling. Between 1999, shortly after the country’s leaders decided to focus on expanding access to and improving the quality of higher education as tools to propel the former Third World economy into the leading ranks of the world’s powers, and 2005, the number of undergraduate and graduate students earning degrees from China’s colleges and universities quadrupled, rising to 3.1 million from 830,000. Enrollments grew even faster over that period, with the number of new entering students growing to nearly 5 million in 2005.
Much of the growth has occurred in scientific and engineering fields, prompting much of the concern that has gripped the American technology community and stimulated calls for heightened federal investment in the sciences. China has also taken significant strides in recent years to shrink the educational gap that separates its urban centers from its enormous rural populations, with rural students making up 53 percent of newly admitted students in 2005, up from below 47 percent in 1998.
Although China’s higher education system has continued to expand, growing to nearly 1,800 institutions in 2005 from about 1,000 in the late 1990s, much of that growth has occurred among short-term colleges and vocational schools. Among universities, the more pervasive trend in recent years, according to the NBER study, has been in consolidation, shifting away from an emphasis on having all institutions increase their enrollments to havinvg a smaller number of elite universities. “In many of China’s major cities there has ... been consolidation of universities, with, say, 4 or 5 small universities in the city consolidated into a large single entity as a way of improving their ranking,” the report notes.
That's from Doug Lederman's summary of a recent report titled The Higher Educational Transformation of China and Its Global Implications.