Higher education expansion and inequality in educational opportunities in China

Abstract

In line with global trends, China experienced a rapid expansion in its higher education system in the second half of the twentieth century, and has seen especially large growth since the early 2000s. The expansion of higher education means an increase in the total quantity of educational opportunities. Although it is expected that education expansion can lead to a more equalized distribution of educational opportunities, based on the extant research in China, there is currently no consensus regarding the impact of higher education expansion on equality in educational opportunity. Moreover, only a few researchers have examined the difference in its impact between elite and non-elite higher education. By analyzing the data from the Chinese General Social Survey (CGSS) 2015, this study aims to investigate the relationship between higher education expansion and inequalities in educational opportunities in the context of China and to analyze the difference in the influence of this expansion between elite and non-elite higher education. The findings of this study show that, except for gender disparity, inequalities affected by household registration, family economic status, and parental education level were not ameliorated after expansion. In addition, the decrease in gender inequality in access to higher education was greater in elite than non-elite higher education. Possible reasons and policy implications are given based on the data analysis in this paper.

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Funding

This study is supported by Humanities and Social Sciences projects of the Ministry of Education (Grant No. 18YJA 880104), Beijing Philosophy and Social Science Planning Project (Grant No. 15JYA002), and Tsinghua University Independent Research Project (Grant No. 2016THZWYX11).

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Correspondence to Kun Yan.

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Wu, L., Yan, K. & Zhang, Y. Higher education expansion and inequality in educational opportunities in China. High Educ 80, 549–570 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-020-00498-2

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Keywords

  • Higher education expansion
  • Inequalities
  • Educational opportunities