The "academic title" (zige 資格) of "university student" (jiansheng 監生) was used by students enrolled (yiye 肄業) at the National University (taixue 太學), which stood under the Directorate of Education (guozijian 國子監). It was regularly used during the Ming 明 (1368-1644) and Qing 清 (1644-1911) periods, but appeared as early as 807, during the Tang period 唐 (618-907).
Normally the title was bestowed on imperial order after the applicants had passed a special examination, yet there were also other methods of obtaining it. University students were therefore divided into the classes of university student by metropolitan examination (jujian 舉監, ju jiansheng 舉監生), university student having passed the provincial examination (gongjian 貢監, gong jiansheng 貢監生), university student by imperial grace (enjian 恩監, en jiansheng 恩監生), university student by inheritance (yinjian 蔭監, yin jiansheng 蔭監生, also written 廕監生, if father and grandfather had already attended the National University) and university student by excellent performance, recommended by the provincial authorites (youjian 優監, you jiansheng 優監生).
If a student had obtained the title by purchase (see contribution), he was called lijian 例監 (li jiansheng 例監生) or juanjian 捐監 (juan jiansheng 捐監生). Depending on the sum paid, such "purchased privileges" corresponded to the examination ranks of excess-quota university student (zengjian 增監, zeng jiansheng 增監生) or additional university students (fujian 附監, fu jiansheng 附監生).
There were also non-Chinese students allowed, for instance, from Korea, who were called yisheng 夷生 "barbarian students", and such from native tribes in southwest China which were called tuguansheng 土官生.
In the late Qing period, the purchase of the jiansheng title was so common that it was just a brevet title, without the right to attend the National University.
Students hailing from the Eight Banners (baqi 八旗) were all university students by grace (enjian).
In addition to that, the sons of state officials with the ranks 4 (capital) and 3 (province) or higher could also be given the privilege of inheritance in case the father had died. They were called nanyin jiansheng 難廕監生 "university students of inheritance as orphans".
The term sheng-jian 生監 is an aggregation of the words shengyuan 生員 "government students" and jiansheng "university students". Both refer to students enrolled at a government school, the former to such at local schools, the latter to those at the National University.