The Education System
The Chinese government have introduced nine years compulsory education for all. Students are required to complete primary and junior middle school education. Thereafter, students who pass the appropriate entrance examinations go on to senior middle schools or middle-level vocational schools. They may then  take the national college entrance exam which gives access to tertiary education.
Despite claims made on many websites (including official Chinese sites) education is no longer  free in China. Tuition is free during the nine-year compulsory part of education. However, students are required to pay for textbooks etc. Post junior school parents must pay for tuition. Some limited help is offered to the poorer students, but this seldom covers all costs. As a result, particularly in the countryside, some children still do not attend school. Also, 'illegal' children under the one-child policy and children of rural parents who have travelled without permission to the larger cities in search of work are often unable to attend school.
China Daily has reported that, from Spring 2007, all fees are to be abolished in some of China's poorer areas. It remains to be seen how effective this will be.

Primary education is a six year course in which pupils study core subjects such as Chinese, Maths, History, Geography, Science etc. There is also a certain level of  elementary political and moral education. A strong emphasis is also placed on Physical Education.
Schools start around 8 am and classes go on into the evenings. 
Junior Middle school (junior high) is really a continuation of the primary system, with students studying the same core subjects at higher levels. Again there is an emphasis on sports and physical education, alongside moral and political education. At the end of the three years, all pupils take an examination, which for successful students leads to senior middle school or vocational school. These examinations are considered to be very important as the pass level determines the quality of senior or vocational school into which the students may be accepted..
In Senior Middle school, students elect whether to follow science or humanities curricula. These courses are designed to lead to the important National College Entrance Exams. Again sport and political education are part of the curriculum.
Whatever type of higher education students wish to undertake, they must first take the National College Entrance Exam. This is held in early July and there are separate exams for science and humanities candidates. University and College admission is administered nationally and by admissions committees at provincial level, under the Ministry of Education. Students apply for the institution and departments they wish to attend, listing choices in order of preference. Admission is decided mainly on the results of the entrance exams, but can also include an investigation into the candidates' "social behaviour and moral character."
There are literally hundreds of universities in China, but these vary immensely in the level and quality of education. At the top of the pecking order are the key universities such as Beijing University and Shanghai's Fudan University. These rate alongside western universities in quality. Below these are various provincial and local institutions which have been awarded the title of university. Somewhat confusingly, there are also a large number of "normal" universities. These are teacher training universities.
Most universities offer four to five year courses leading to bachelor's degrees.
It is also possible to continue to master's and doctorate level. These courses also require entrance exam passes.
In addition to the universities, there are colleges, offering two or three year diploma courses in various vocational subjects. There are also 'normal colleges' which again are teacher training establishments. Many, if not all of these, aspire to be upgraded to 'university' status.

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