Since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, an important governmental effort has been to eliminate illiteracy and popularize compulsory education. At present, the national net enrollment rate in elementary schools is 98.58 percent, and the gross enrollment rate in junior high schools has reached 90 percent. This compares to 1949 when only 20 percent of school-age children were in school, and 80 percent of all adults were illiterate. Today illiteracy among the young and middle-aged population has decreased to less than 5 percent, and the nine-year compulsory education basically has been established in the areas where 90 percent of the country's population live.
The past ten years have seen the fastest development in education in China. Ten years ago, for example, few institutions offered an MBA (Master of Business Administration). In 2003, some 62 schools offer MBAs, enrolling some 30,000 MBA students. International professional degrees like EMBA (Employed Master of Business Administration) and MPA (Master of Public Administration) also are offered. As regards the MPA degree, the State Council Degree Committee has authorized 47 Chinese institutions of higher learning to offer the degree, and some 7,700 students have been enrolled at present.
International cooperation and exchanges in education have increased year by year. China has the most students studying abroad in the world. Since 1979, some 582,000 Chinese students have studied in 103 countries and regions, among whom 160,000 have returned after finishing their studies. Meanwhile, the number of foreign students studying in China has also increased. In 2003, there were 86,000 students from 170 foreign countries studying in China's universities.
Education in China thrives in part because of increased investment. Since 1998, the percentage of funds allotted to education by the Central Government has grown 1 percentage point annually. In 2003, the national government fund for education was 349.14 billion yuan, accounting for 3.41 percent in the GDP, an increase of 0.22 percentage point from the previous year, being the highest since 1989 when this index was first monitored.
According to a development program of the Ministry of Education, the government will establish an education financial system in line with the public financial system, strengthen the responsibility of governments at all levels to invest in education, and ensure that the governments' financial allocation in education grows faster than their regular revenue. The program also sets a goal of trying in a relatively short time to make educational investment account for 4 percent of the GDP. For non-compulsory education, China has a system of sharing costs with students by charging tuition at a certain percentage of the educational cost. Meanwhile, to ensure education for students from families with economic difficulties, the Chinese government offers scholarships, work-study programs, subsidies for students with special economic difficulties, reduction of or exemption from tuition, and state student loans.
The government is committed to providing more and more educational opportunities as demonstrated in a plan of the Ministry of Education whereby in 2020 for every 100,000 persons, 13,500 will have a junior college education and about 31,000 will have senior high school diplomas; the percentage of illiterate or semi-literate population will go down below 3 percent; and the average schooling of the whole population will increase from eight years of today to 11 years.