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Growing bigger and stronger through adapting to social and economic needs-- Overview of China’s progress in reforming and developing vocational education since the 18th CPC National Congress

2018-09-07 11:00:00

Since the 18th CPC National Congress in 2012, as China’s industrial transformation and upgrading accelerated, vocational education has been playing an increasingly greater role in producing highly skilled talent across a range of advanced industrial and service sectors. The Chinese vocational education system has come a long way towards meeting the needs of a modern and increasingly skill-intensive economy.

Assuming a greater strategic role

Since 2012, China has introduced a series of major national strategies, including the “Road and Belt” Initiative, Made in China 2025, Internet + and Mass Entrepreneurship, to push its economy to the next level. New industries, forms of business and business models have emerged, and along with them a critical shortage of the specialized skills these emerging sectors require, giving vocational education an opportunity to assume a greater strategic role as a major provider of these skills.

China now has the world’s largest vocational education system, with 12,300 institutions, 100,000 degree-conferring schools, and 26.83 million students in upper secondary vocational education. Each year, the system produces 10 million graduates, who have an over 90 percent employment rate. In total, vocational schools have developed connections to over 30,000 enterprises. Government funding to vocational education has reached over 300 billion RMB, which has greatly improved the infrastructure and equipment of most schools.

A greater focus on quality

In the past few years, there has been increasing attention to quality rather than just quantitative expansion of vocational schools.

Stronger links between vocational schools and industry have made graduates more employable and relevant in a rapidly changing market. Vocational institutions now incorporate the kind of sequenced and supervised interplay of learning and work that characterize the world’s best systems to make teaching more employment-oriented.

A range of standards on vocational education and training linked to frontier industries have been formulated and constantly updated within an overarching qualifications framework. The MOE has issued 766 revised catalogs of majors for upper secondary and tertiary vocational schools, 230 teaching standards for junior secondary schools and 410 for upper secondary ones, 70 standards on work placements and internships, and 9 specifications on specialized equipment for teaching purposes. These standards have served to improve the effectiveness of teaching and instructions and establish quality and consistence across institutions.

In the past, education finished at the end of secondary school for most students in vocational education schools. Vocational education was literally an educational dead end. Now, this is beginning to change as pilot efforts are under way to create bridges and pathways between vocational and academic education.

Greater contributions to economic and social progress

Vocational education and training institutions are producing the lion’s share of China’s highly skilled talent needed for upgrading China’s manufacturing industry and building a larger services sector. In addition, statistics show that vocational schools account for 70 percent of workforce entrants to such emerging industries as processing and manufacturing, high-speed railway, urban rail transit, modern logistics, and e-commerce.

Away from the advanced coastal provinces, vocational education is being strongly supported as part of the targeted poverty alleviation campaign for central and western provinces, with a view to producing well-trained workers to help local businesses close the skills gap.

Vocational schools are also producing a vast army of modern farmers equipped with the knowledge to transform China’s vast rural hinterland from low productivity agriculture to hi-tech farming, contributing to the revitalization of the rural areas.

Expanded international links and cooperation

Against the backdrop of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China’s vocational schools have expanded links and cooperation with partner institutions located in BRI countries. By bringing in advanced vocational education curricula, practices and systems, China is now able to offer world-class vocational education. Meanwhile, leading Chinese vocational schools are branching out overseas. For instance, Ningbo Polytechnic Vocational College has, through its overseas branches, provided training for over 1,700 business leaders, education officials and teachers in Egypt and other BRI countries.

Vocational schools located in China’s prosperous coastal areas, such as Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Guangdong, have developed cooperation programs with Germany, the UK and Australia, among other countries, as well as a dozen of international organizations, such as UNESCO.

So far, 2,300 tertiary vocational colleges, and over 300 upper secondary schools have established international cooperation programs. Of all the over 2,500 international programs approved by the MOE, over 900 were implemented by vocational institutions. These programs have allowed Chinese vocational schools to bring in advanced training practices and at the same time send an increasing number of their own students abroad for a more diversified education.

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