China to Increase Vocational Schools Enrollment 31% by 2020

The Chinese government recently publicized a plan to allow for 38.3 million students attending vocational education institutions by 2020, a 31% increase from its current enrollment.

Vocational schools in China accept students upon completion of their first three middle school years.  The 13,600 schools have largely been neglected in an effort to expand the university system.  According to Ge Daokai, head of the vocational education division in the Ministry of Education, the schools are poorly equipped, managed, and often cannot find high quality teachers.

Because the schools are not subjected to an evaluation system, it is often times hard to find the good from the substandard, writes Eva Dou for The Wall Street Journal. 

“In the vast majority of vocational education schools in China, kids are not learning anything, especially in rural areas,” said Scott Rozelle, director of Stanford University’s Rural Education Action Program, which studies China’s vocational schools. “In studies in central and northwest China, we found dropout rates of 50% in the first two years of these programs.”

In addition to upgrading the current vocational schools, China’s health department is considering converting almost 600 universities into vocational colleges in an effort to “offer education and skills training of more edgy and sophisticated professions”.

The decision comes as part of a political push for economic growth within the country.  The first step in all of this is to work on the amount of highly skilled workers developed within the nation, writes Dexter Roberts for Bloomberg Businessweek. 

“The rise of the Chinese economy is accompanied with quality improvements of Chinese products and services,” said Premier Li Keqiang, speaking at a national vocational education confab in Beijing on June 23. “Imagine the scale and level of Chinese products and services if most of the 900-million-strong labor force can be trained to master medium- and high-level skills.”

President Xi Jinping gave the opening statement at the meeting, the third to be held in China since the late 70s; which suggests the importance the Chinese government places on the issue.

According to Peter Yin for Women of China, the government must now find a way to attract new students away from the prestige and higher social status that comes with a university degree.  They are hoping that through educational improvements at the schools, people will no longer see vocational schools as an option only for low-performing students.

“Now the top leadership, including Premier Li Keqiang, are redefining modern vocational education,” said Liu Qiaoli, a researcher at the Beijing-based National Institute of Education Sciences, the research arm of the education ministry. “He connects it with improving people’s livelihoods and the country’s development, and he acknowledges the essential role of vocational education.”

Local governments will be required to budget for the vocational schools just as they do for regular schools.  In addition, businesses will be encouraged to support the schools through donations, which will not be taxed.  Any business that does so will also be urged to train their teachers and offer internships for students.