Qualifications and Degrees: Understanding the Chinese Dual-Credential System
From: International Qualifications Assessment Service (IQAS)

Qualifications and Degrees: A Simplified Outline

1. In English, “educational qualification” is a general term that encompasses degrees. In China, qualifications and degrees are two separate types of credentials represented by separate documents – certificates of graduation and degree certificates respectively.

2. The presentation aims to clarify the interrelationship of qualifications and degrees and identify the various possible paths a student can take in the Chinese higher education system. This knowledge will help us better understand the academic background of Chinese students based on their credentials, especially if they have followed a somewhat “unconventional” path.

3. A Zhuanke Certificate of Graduation is often translated as a Diploma of a (2-year or 3-year) junior college course.

4. A Benke Certificate of Graduation is often translated as a Diploma or Graduation Certificate of a (4-year or 5-year) undergraduate course.


1. The Chinese term for educational qualifications (xueli,学历) literally means “educational experience”. It represents the completion of a recognized educational program of a defined level.

2. Qualifications are documented by (毕业证书/毕业文凭), usually translated as Certificate of Graduation.

3. Graduate Class is a graduate coursework program offered in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

4. Non-qualification includes (1) short-term, highly specialized training programs and (2) academic programs not fully recognized. Non-qualification programs issue Certificates of Completion (结业证书).

5. A Certificate of Completion from a qualification program indicates deficiencies.

6. Certificates of Graduation are considered complete exit credentials and give access to both employment and further education. Employers traditionally require qualifications rather than degrees, especially at the benke/bachelor level. Benke qualification is accepted on par with a bachelor’s degree for admission into master’s programs, but a master’s degree is required for admission into doctoral programs.

Note: A curved dotted connector indicates a possible but somewhat unconventional path.


1. The Chinese term for academic degree (xuewei,学位) literally means “academic position/status”. It represents academic achievement of a defined level. Only the bachelor’s degree has to be based on a same-level qualification – no benke, no bachelor degree.

2. Degrees are separate from qualifications, and degree certificates are separate from certificates of graduation. The bachelor degree certificate was combined with the benke certificate of graduation for a number of years (1985-1991/92). They were called certificates of graduation but doubled as bachelor degree certificates.

Master’s and doctoral degrees have always had separate certificates.

3. The dual-credential system was born at the introduction of academic degrees in China in 1981.

Qualifications and Degrees

Examples of “unconventional” credential patterns

1. Benke certificate of graduation, no bachelor’s degree

   – In regular higher education, about 90% of benke graduates receive bachelor degrees. In adult higher education, only 20~30% do.

2. Benke certificate of graduation, no bachelor’s degree, master’s certificate of graduation, master’s degree

   – It is possible, but unusual. A bachelor’s degree is not required for admission into master’s programs. However, graduate admission is highly competitive even for bachelor degree holders.

3. Zhuanke certificate of graduation, master’s certificate of graduation, master’s degree

   – It is possible, but very unusual. A zhuanke certificate holder with several years’ work experience can apply to a regular master’s program by claiming “comparable educational competence” and passing a few extra exams.

4. Bachelor’s degree, no benke certificate of graduation: unacceptable

5. Master’s certificate of graduation, no master’s degree

   – It is possible, but very unusual. Only high-performing students can get into graduate programs, and few would graduate but fail to get their master’s degree due to poor grades.

   – Verify the English translation to make sure it is not something else – such as a certificate of graduation from graduate class or a certificate of completion of graduate coursework, which is a non-qualification program.

6. Master’s degree, no master’s certificate of graduation

   – First, make sure the applicant really does not have the certificate of graduation.

   – It might be a professional master’s degree – an accurate translation is needed to confirm this. Or it might be obtained through independent study and passing national master-level exams.

   – The accompanying transcript would not indicate 2 or 2.5 years of full-time study as in a regular master’s program. For example, a master of education professional degree can be completed in as little as six months.