China has the largest number of college students anywhere in the world, while one fifth of the world’s college student population live in the country, said a report by its Ministry of Education yesterday.

This tremendous growth in students can only properly be illustrated by comparison to the past: when the People’s Republic of China was born in 1949, college and university students stood at only 117,000. Last year, that number was 37 million.

Data showed that in 1949, only 0.26% of Chinese aged 18-22 were attending college. Last year, that figure was 40% and is projected to hit 50% in 2019.

The data confirms the vast opportunities for international universities looking to break into the Chinese market, or appeal to Chinese students who go abroad.

Unsurprisingly, China’s higher education system and industry has grown rapidly over the last few years to keep up with the enormous demand. Today, there are almost 2,900 colleges and universities in China – a number that is topped only by the United States.

“The fast development of higher education in China has offered more ordinary Chinese people the opportunity to attend college. It has also provided intelligent support for the dramatic transformation of Chinese society,” said Wu Yan, director of the Higher Education Evaluation Center, which was behind the report, China Daily reported.

“Colleges and universities are playing increasingly important roles in the country’s efforts to innovate.”

The report also mentioned weaknesses of China’s higher education system, specifically a low transfer rate for scientific research achievements, insufficient education in innovation and entrepreneurship, and an overemphasis on research success compared to teaching ability.

“To improve China’s higher education, reforms should be continued, more resources should be allocated and advanced educational ideas should be introduced to create a good learning atmosphere and to cultivate students’ innovative abilities,” said Zhong Binglin, director of the Chinese Society of Education.

This article first appeared on Asian Correspondent.

Image via AP Images.

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