By the end of 2004, China had 2,236 schools of higher learning, with over 20 million students; the gross rate of enrollment in schools of higher learning reached 19 percent. Postgraduate education is the fastest growing sector, with 24.1 percent more students recruited and 25.9 percent more researchers than the year before. This enrollment growth indicates that China has entered the stage of popular education. The UNESCO world higher education report of June 2003 pointed out that the student population of China's schools of higher learning had doubled in a very short period of time, and was the world's largest.
Particular attention has been paid to improving systems in recent reforms. Many industrial multiversities and specialist colleges have been established, strengthening some incomplete subjects and establishing new specialties, e.g., automation, atomic energy, energy resources, oceanography, nuclear physics, computer science, polymer chemistry, polymer physics, radiochemistry, physical chemistry and biophysics. A project for creating 100 world class universities began in 1993, which has merged 708 schools of higher learning into 302 universities. Merging schools of higher learning has produced far-reaching reform of higher education management, optimizing of educational resources allocation, and further improving teaching quality and school standards. More than 30 universities have received help from a special national fund to support their attainment of world elite class.
Between 1999 and 2003, enrollment in higher education increased from 1.6 million to 3.82 million. In 2004, the total enrollment in ordinary schools of higher learning was 4.473 million, 651,000 more than in 2003. Schools of higher learning and research institutes enrolled 326,000 postgraduate students, 57,000 more than the previous year.
The contribution to China's economic construction and social development made by research in the higher education sector is becoming ever more evident. By strengthening cooperation among their production, teaching and research, schools of higher learning are speeding up the process in turning sci-tech research results into products, giving rise to many new and hi-tech enterprises and important innovations. Forty-three national university sci-tech parks have been started or approved, some of which have become important bases for turning research into products.