Current Education Policy

Currently, variations in education policy across different levels of schooling continue to contribute to educational inequality. Even within the same region, school attendance and tuition are regulated differently, often causing confusion for families new to the education system.

Beginning in the early 1980s, grades 1-6 have been designated as compulsory education; it was not until the mid-1990s that grades 7-9 were also designated as compulsory. This regulation of earlier education was enhanced by the elimination of tuition for grades 1-9 in the early 2000s, and in recent years, the poor are now able to obtain subsidies for the education of their children. This system of 9 year compulsory education has been partially successful in rural areas, with regions reporting very high primary-level enrollment and completion rates. However, grades 10-12 have not been designated as compulsory, and high secondary-level dropout rates break the 9 year compulsory education cycle even earlier.

Additionally, in rural areas, the tuition for public high school is comparatively higher than that of most other developing countries, further discouraging rural households from focusing their income on upper secondary education.

Additionally, as a result of China's large population, college enrollment slots are still restricted in availability, with tuition so high that the costs far dwarf the income of a typical family in poverty. Recent efforts to expand college education availability, coupled with increasing emphasis on scholarships and loans, may help counter rising tuition costs (and other income-related barriers to higher education). Despite tuition challenges, more and more students have been able to graduate from college, with the number of college graduates quadrupling in the past decade.

As an attempt to level the playing field, the gaokao, or Chinese university examination, offered extra points for students of ethnic minority backgrounds, although this was scaled back in recent 2014 reforms to national examination policy after multiple cases of ethnicity alteration prompted national backlash. The new reforms also included provisions for provincial quotas, requiring universities to reserve a designated number of admission seats for students from outside of the university's region.