A review of achievements in postgraduate education (2012-2021)


The Ministry of Education (MOE) would like to express gratitude to all sectors of society for their support for China’s postgraduate education. The CPC Central Committee and the State Council place great emphasis on postgraduate education. In July 2020, General Secretary Xi Jinping gave clear instructions on how to further develop postgraduate education, which provided a fundamental guideline for postgraduate education reform in the New Era. Since the 18th CPC National Congress in 2012, MOE has followed General Secretary Xi’s guidance and implemented the tasks assigned by the CPC Central Committee and the State Council. MOE has conducted two rounds of comprehensive reforms, with four major targets, i.e. preparing students to become morally upright individuals, serving national strategies and social needs, promoting education quality and striving for world-class excellence. Marked success has been achieved: Progress towards building a sizable postgraduate education system has been accelerated, efforts have been made to ensure overall education quality, and steady steps have been taken to build a strong postgraduate education system. 

1. Preparing students to become morally upright individuals

In the past decade, substantial efforts have been made to strengthen moral and political education for postgraduate students in order to form them into morally upright individuals. The number of postgraduate programs in Marxist theory has increased significantly and a better arrangement has been made at the master and doctoral levels. The number of leading schools of Marxism has also risen rapidly, which has provided strong support for moral and political education in higher education institutions (HEIs). Furthermore, postgraduate supervisors’ responsibilities in moral education have been further expanded. A set of policies has been issued to clarify supervisors’ role as the most important person to help students develop strong moral character and improve academic achievement. Party building and moral education have been strengthened for postgraduate students, who have deeper conviction for the CPC vision, are more dedicated to serving the country, and have a more positive attitude about life. 

2. Serving national strategies and social needs

Over the past decade, China’s postgraduate education has well served the national strategy of nurturing young scientists who can explore technological frontiers, promote social and economic development, serve national interests, and help improve the well-being of all. During this period, China’s postgraduate education system has produced more than 600,000 doctoral graduates and more than 6.5 million master’s graduates, offering a strong talent pool to support the development of the CPC and the country. Efforts have been made to optimize the structure of the education system. Degree program catalogs have been revised to cover a full range of academic disciplines that are important to the country’s economic and social development. These disciplines lay a strong foundation for knowledge innovation, technological development and industrial upgrading. A more sophisticated system has also been set up to provide more tailor-made guidance and individualized instruction for students. In addition, the general public now better understands that “professional degrees and academic degrees are equally important”. Doctoral programs in science and engineering, agriculture, and medicine have been strengthened, and a number of little-known programs with great cultural significance have been bolstered.

Targeted and systematic measures with a clear focus have been taken to prepare students to become urgently-needed, high-caliber professionals. A list of urgently needed academic disciplines has been identified, and the education sector’s capacity to serve the country’s needs has been strengthened. The number of interdisciplinary programs has increased. Policies to set up and administer such programs have been set forth, and institutional arrangements have been made to guide their future development. The geographical distribution of postgraduate education has improved: On the one hand, postgraduate education has provided strong support to attract world-class talent and build innovation hubs in economically strong areas; on the other hand, it serves the strategy of developing economically weak areas in western China. Prestigious universities enjoy more autonomy in setting up new academic programs and courses, and all degree-granting institutions are allowed to adjust their academic programs and set up secondary-level programs. During the past 10 years, the structure of China’s postgraduate education system has been optimized, and it is able to meet society’s needs more rapidly.  

3. Promoting education quality 

Over the past decade, reforms in postgraduate education have deepened, a robust system has been built to ensure education quality, a remarkable improvement in overall quality has been achieved, and universities’ capacity to transform students into high-caliber professionals has been enhanced. In 2019, a campaign was launched to impose stricter quality control measures throughout the whole process for all students and teachers involved in postgraduate education. Evaluations of degree-granting institutions have been carried out routinely, and more rigorous measures have been taken to control the quality of doctoral dissertations. Both supervisors and postgraduate students are now better aware of the importance of striving for high quality.

Innovative models have been adopted to provide students more tailor-made guidance and individualized instruction. Partnerships linking education with science and industry have become more sophisticated, thus strengthening the synergy among government, schools, enterprises, and research institutes. The number of supervisors increased from 298,000 in 2012 to 557,000 in 2021, and steady progress has been made in the structure of the supervision system and the quality of academic supervision.

The development of courses and textbooks has also been strengthened. A guidebook for postgraduate-level core courses has been published, which covers all existing academic disciplines and over 1,500 courses. Effort has been made to create a more congenial learning environment. Over the past 10 years, MOE, in cooperation with the China Association for Science and Technology, has offered lectures and organized activities for newly enrolled postgraduate students to help them learn more about the ethics of science and how to build a healthy learning environment. Postgraduate students have made remarkable contributions to science, including a number of important national projects, and have become the backbone of technological innovation.

4. Striving for world-class excellence

The CPC Central Committee and the State Council have pressed ahead with efforts to build first-class universities and academic disciplines. Universities participating in the “double first-class” project are the main breeding ground for basic research professionals and an increasingly important place to train talent for technological innovation. They boast, respectively, over 80% and nearly 60% of all the doctoral students and master’s students in the country. The “double first-class” project has made steady progress, leading the construction of a system of first-class universities. Through perseverance and hard work, the first round of the project has attained it goals: A number of universities and several academic disciplines like materials science and engineering have become world-class. 

Universities participating in the “double first-class” project have made a series of major breakthroughs in promoting basic research innovation, developing core technologies and serving national strategies. The disciplines of philosophy and social sciences have seen a thriving growth, catalyzing the improvement of other disciplines. A number of centers have been built in China’s regular HEIs to spread excellent traditional Chinese culture. Substantial progress has been made in a number of important academic research projects, including the projects of literature of Marxism, literature of Confucianism and Tsinghua Bamboo Manuscripts.

High-level international exchange and cooperation in higher education have also been enhanced. In the past 10 years, 71 postgraduate-level Chinese-foreign joint education institutions have been established and 276 Chinese-foreign joint education programs have been launched. Dozens of international joint laboratories in the fields of biomedicine, ecology and environmental studies, and more have been set up in cooperation with foreign higher education institutions and academic research institutes.

The remarkable achievements made in China’s postgraduate education are attributable to the solid implementation of the guiding principles developed from Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era, strong leadership from the CPC Central Committee and the State Council, tremendous support from all sectors of society, and the endeavors of all stakeholders involved in postgraduate education. MOE will continue to put General Secretary Xi Jinping’s instructions into practice, stay confident in the country’s education development, learn lessons from history and take active steps, speed up the process of nurturing urgently needed, high-caliber professionals, and build a world-class higher education system with Chinese characteristics so as to make a greater contribution to the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.