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National Key Universities (Chinese: 国家重点大学) previously referred to universities recognized as prestigious and which received a high level of support from the central government of the People's Republic of China. The term is no longer in official use. However, it remains part of the vernacular, as evidenced by numerous Chinese media articles which still refer to "National Key Universities".
A list of 16 National Key Universities was first promulgated by the Chinese government in 1959, and included Peking University, Tsinghua University, University of Science and Technology of China, Renmin University, Northwestern Polytechnical University, Fudan University. In 1960, another 44 universities were added to this list. By 1978, there were 88 National Key Universities. At the end of the 20th century, after reforms to the system of higher education in China, the Chinese government instituted a two-tier system of universities, namely universities managed by the central government and universities managed by provincial governments. The majority of universities would be managed by provincial governments. A small number of universities which affected national development or were highly specialized would be managed by the Chinese Ministry of Education (or by a few other ministries). The term "National Key Universities" then became defunct, and these schools are now normally referred to as "211" universities, based on China's Project 211. Universities under the Chinese Ministry of Education, of which there are currently 75, became known as "Universities directly under the Ministry of Education" (教育部直属高校).
The term "zhòngdiǎn" 重点, translated here as "key," in this phrase can also be translated as "major," "priority," or "focal."