Research in Higher Education

, Volume 60, Issue 3, pp 358–391 | Cite as

Bigger Pie, Bigger Slice? The Impact of Higher Education Expansion on Educational Opportunity in China

  • Dongshu OuEmail author
  • Yuna Hou


China’s higher education system has expanded rapidly since 1999. Exploiting variation in the density of university expansion across provinces and high school cohorts and applying a difference-in-differences model, we estimate the impact of higher education expansion on educational access and attainment with a particular focus on students’ family and demographic backgrounds. Results indicate that the expansion of university spots increased both access and graduation rates at 4-year universities, but this improvement was driven by those of higher social status, including males, those with highly educated fathers, han-ethnic and urban students. Females, rural students and those with low-educated fathers also benefited once they were able to graduate from high school. Also, the policy had only a limited effect on the likelihood of graduating from high school. As in other countries, education expansion in China has not led to equal distribution of educational opportunities, and the least socioeconomically advantaged students are missing out.


Higher education Supply expansion Education attainment Equality of opportunity China 



We are grateful to Massimiliano Bratti, Lingxin Hao, Prashant Loyalka, Sandra McNally and audience at the 2015 AERA conference for their helpful comments. We also thank all anonymous reviewers whose comments have greatly improved this paper. Ou acknowledges funding from the CUHK Direct Grant (#4058038). The opinions expressed here represent opinions of the authors only.


Funding was provided by CUHK Direct Grant (Grant No. #4058038).


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Educational Administration and Policy, Faculty of EducationThe Chinese University of Hong KongShatinHong Kong
  2. 2.Faculty of EducationSouthwest UniversityChongqingPeople’s Republic of China

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