Biotechnology and Life Sciences Education in China

Changes in the quality of Chinese universities has allowed the biotechnology sector to grow
Nov 01, 2007
Volume 20, Issue 11

Eric Langer; Eliza Yibing Zhou
Biotechnology is definitely a hot topic in China—the country's administrators recently identified it as a "cornerstone of China's national economy by 2020." But most realize that getting there will require a better trained, specialized workforce than currently exists. The Chinese government has been pumping money into life sciences education as part of its plan to achieve a global biotechnological presence over the next 15 years.

This article summarizes information from the recent BioPlan Associates and Society for Industrial Microbiology study, Advances in Biopharmaceutical Technology in China. We examine how investments have affected the growth of life sciences in China over the past few years.


In 1981, China outlined an educational degree system similar to that in the US. In 1995, China introduced a national strategy to "reinvigorate China through science and education." One such high-priority program is the 211 Project, which focuses on funding major universities and key disciplines in China. Based on enrollment, employment, and economic data, these programs seem to be working.


Figure 1. Undergraduate enrollment in higher education institutions (1998–2005)
The sheer size of China's population makes its education statistics eye-popping: in 2005, the total higher education enrollment in China hit a record of 23 million—the highest in the world. There were 2,236 higher education institutions in China including 684 undergraduate institutions and 1,047 junior colleges. The gross enrollment rate was 21% (percentage of population, age 18–22, enrolled in all higher education institutions in China), with an 8.5% annual increase since 2000.1 (Figures 1 and 2).

Figure 2. Graduate enrollment in higher education institutions (1998–2005)
According to the Ministry of Education, by the end of 2004 there were 228 private higher education institutions in China, with a total enrollment of 1.4 million students.2 Following China's entry to the world trade organization, many foreign universities have also opened facilities in China through cooperation with Chinese private schools.


The 211 Project has funded 100 major university construction projects and improvements in education quality and scientific research. For example, between 1999 and 2001, the government invested 1.8 billion RMB ($240 million) in Tsing Hua University and Peking University, respectively, to help establish them as competitive world-class institutions. Total investments on the 211 Project reached $2.3 billion used for key discipline creation, public service system construction, and basic facilities construction.

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