A review of achievements in vocational education (2012-2021)


Vocational education is a significant component of China’s educational and talent cultivation system. Since 2012, China has made great efforts to reform this sector. As a result, a total of 61 million skilled professionals have graduated from 7,294 secondary vocational schools and 1,518 higher vocational schools (including 32 polytechnic colleges) across the country. China’s vocational education system has taken a major step in terms of diversity, quality, and contribution to social progress.

More specifically, remarkable achievements have been made in the following seven aspects:

1. Alignment with economic and social development needs

To keep pace with industrial restructuring and upgrading, two rounds of overall adjustments have been made to the structure of vocational education disciplines based on keen observation of new developments in supply chains, markets, technologies and consumption patterns. By aligning discipline categories with industries, industry segments and posts (or technical areas) in a vertical manner, 108 outdated disciplines have been phased out and 1,007 upgraded or added, with the modification rate exceeding 70%. Now, over 1,300 disciplines and 120,000 programs are offered by vocational education institutions across the country, covering basically all areas of the national economy. In advanced manufacturing, emerging industries and the IT-powered service sector, over 70% of new frontline workers are graduates of vocational schools.

2. Promoting education-production integration

A series of policies have been introduced to enhance a vocational training mechanism featuring government coordination, guidance from industrial associations and participation of enterprises. To date, this mechanism has witnessed a number of significant achievements: Over 1,500 vocational education groups (alliances) have been set up; 3,000 enterprises established collaboration with vocational schools; and 21 cities were approved to conduct pilot projects for advancing education-industry integration. In addition, supported by favorable land, financial and taxation policies, 24,900 training centers were co-established by vocational schools and enterprises, with an annual growth rate reaching 8.6%. Over 1,000 training programs adopted the modern apprenticeship system, benefiting 100,000 students.

3. Establishing a direct link with academic education

Coordination between vocational and academic education has been enhanced to provide more varied choices for students at different levels. Over 4,500 vocational schools give support to 110,000 primary and secondary schools in offering courses on labor practices and professional skills. Enrollment methods for higher vocational education have been optimized to include examination of both academic knowledge and vocational skills. Thanks to these measures, vocational education has been increasingly considered to be as important as academic education in terms of contribution to personal development, economic growth and social progress.

4. Strengthening the vertical link between vocational education at different levels

With the issuance of the Law on Vocational Education, the objectives of vocational education at different levels have been clarified. Secondary vocational schools focus on training candidates for higher vocational education who are equipped with basic technical skills and academic knowledge. Supported by a number of national projects, polytechnics are required to produce graduates capable of serving regional development and industrial upgrading. Vocational education at the undergraduate level has been developed recently, aiming to provide degree programs for vocational students.

5. Improving both vocational education and training

China has built the world’s largest vocational education system, emphasizing both degree programs and vocational training. Over the past three years, the enrollment scale has been expanded for higher vocational education, with an additional 4,133,000 students admitted during this period. In 2021, 5,570,000 students were enrolled in higher vocational schools and 4,890,000 in secondary vocational schools. In addition, vocational schools also provide training services, benefiting millions of people every year.

6. Serving lifelong learning needs

Powered by digital technology, vocational education has joined hands with continuing and regular education to contribute to a learning society where educational opportunities are available to everyone at any time. With central government investment for 10 consecutive years, the national vocational education smart platform was launched this year, integrating teaching resources all over the country covering 19 disciplines and 396 subcategories at the higher education level. A total of 1,891 higher education institutions offer degree programs in the form of continuing education, with registered students accounting for 46.8% of the total number of undergraduates. To promote community education, 129 communities have been approved to conduct pilot projects and 120 districts (counties) have been allowed to implement demonstration programs. In addition, 30 open universities for senior citizens have been established.

7. Supporting the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)

China has established partnerships with over 70 countries and international organizations in expanding bilateral cooperation in vocational education. Over 400 vocational colleges have received a total of 17,000 international students, set up 20 “Lu Ban Workshops” (with Lu Ban being a great craftsman and inventor in ancient China) providing technical training in 19 countries, and offered “Chinese language plus vocational education” programs in more than 40 countries, introducing replicable and successful Chinese practices to BRI countries.