China is moving to reform its vocational education landscape to help ease a shortage of skilled workers and upgrade its manufacturing sector, according to a reform plan released recently by the State Council.
To create more skilled workers, the plan aims to transform a slew of academic universities by 2022 into vocational education schools in which students can acquire both a bachelor’s degree and a number of occupational skills certificates.
That represents a drastic change for vocational college attendees, who have been able to qualify only for a diploma for middle or high vocational education. The diplomas were usually considered less valuable than a bachelor’s degree, and parents were reluctant to send their children to such colleges.
To facilitate the transformation, the central government pledged 100 million yuan ($14.7 million) in support each for 100 such colleges nationwide by the end of 2020, according to Lou Xuqing, an official in the Ministry of Education’s development planning division.
The investment aims to encourage institutions of higher education to support local economic development, cooperate with enterprises and produce skilled graduates, he said at a news conference to introduce the plan on Feb 19.
Apart from the transformation, the plan requires that 50 high-level vocational schools also be in place by 2020, with 150 leading majors that cover a wide range of industries.
The document also touched on the stigma attached to vocational education, saying it is a different form of education from its mainstream counterpart but of equal importance.
The reform comes as China grapples with an overabundance of college graduates and a shortage of highly skilled workers.
The ratio of demand and supply for skilled workers has hovered for years around 3-to-2, according to Xinhua News Agency.
Around 8.4 million Chinese college graduates are expected to enter the job market this year, and many are worried about their job prospects.
Wang Jiping, head of the ministry’s department of vocational and adult education, said at the news conference that a good vocational education will offer more — and more diverse — routes to usefulness.
“That will help ease pressure on those taking the National College Entrance Examination each year,” he said. “The exam is so competitive that it can be described as millions of troops fighting to pass over a single-plank bridge.”
Wang noted that quality-oriented development and growth of the economy depend on a skilled workforce, and wider availability of occupational education and training will help students get better jobs.