Geographical stratification and the provision of education in contemporary China

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This chapter explores the changing role of the state in the provision of educational opportunities with a specific focus on geographical differences since the market reform in China. Drawing on evidence from the national data on the enrolment rates, progression rates, the educational spending, it highlights a widening inequality in access and participation in education between the eastern, central and western areas during the first stage of the market reform between 1980s and 1990s, a consequence of the Party-State’ gradual development strategy. Furthermore, from the 2000s a new initiative to improve the educational provision in rural and western areas was coincident with the Party-State’s strategy of promoting social cohesion. However, the State’s selective strategy towards educational provision by prioritizing funding to realize universal access to compulsory education and to support elite universities has further divided regions in opportunity structures. It is argued that the state’s educational provision, whilst consistent with its overall development objectives, allowed eastern provinces to increase their advantage in educational spending and access to higher education. The same institutional structures punished students from poor western and central provinces, who were relatively disadvantaged in their opportunities to achieve upward social mobility through higher education.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHandbook of Welfare in China
Subtitle of host publicationHandbooks of Research on Contemporary China Series
Place of PublicationSydney
PublisherEdward Elgar Publishing Limited
Number of pages33
ISBN (Print)978 1 78347 273 4
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 1 Jul 2017


  • Education, geographical inequality, decentralization, gradual development, social cohesion


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