But of course, it’s not just gross enrolment that matters. In China, perhaps more so than elsewhere, where one goes to school is a matter of great import: the prestige of the institution attended makes an enormous amount of difference, which is why secondary students spend such ridiculous amounts of time swotting for their gaokao (university entrance) examinations. But quality institutions are fairly concentrated. In Beijing and Shanghai, roughly one-third of students attend institutions which are ranked in the top 500 globally, as measured by the Shanghai rankings. Hubei, Tianjin and Jilin also have 10% or more of their students in such institutions, but after that it falls off pretty quickly. In the country as a whole, it is just 5% (the corresponding figure in Canada is about 70% if you look just at university students, and 50% if you include both college and university), and in 14 of the country’s 31 provinces, major municipalities and autonomous regions (I’m excluding the two Special Administrative Regions of Macao and Hong Kong here because their data is not typically included in PRC datasets), there are no students enrolled in top institutions.
Figure 4: Percentage of Enrolments in Global Top-500 Institutions, by Province, China 2016