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Ye Liu

This chapter explores the changing role of the State in the provision of educational opportunities, with a specific focus on geographical differences since the market reform in China. Drawing on evidence from national data on enrolment, progression rates and educational spending, it highlights widening inequality in access and participation in education between the eastern, central and western areas during the first stage of the reform (1980s–1990s), as the consequence of the Party-State’s gradual development strategy. Furthermore, from the 2000s a new initiative to improve educational provision in rural and western areas was coincident with the Party-State’s strategy of promoting social cohesion. However, the State’s selective strategy towards educational provision by prioritising funding to realise universal access to compulsory education and to support elite universities has further divided regions in opportunity structures. The chapter argues that the State’s educational provision, while consistent with its overall development objectives, allowed eastern provinces to increase their advantage in educational spending and access to higher education. The same institutional structures punished students from poor western and central provinces, who were relatively disadvantaged in their opportunities to achieve upward social mobility through higher education.