On the morning of December 8, the MOE held the third press conference as part of its 2020 concluding series to review the progress achieved in vocational education during the 13th Five-Year Plan period (2016-2020). Hosted by MOE’s spokeswoman Xu Mei, the event was attended by Chen Ziji, Director-General of the MOE’s Department of Vocational and Adult Education, Deng Yunfeng, Director-General of Shandong Provincial Department of Education, Ma Xiaoming, Vice President of Shenzhen Polytechnic, Zhao Jinling, President of Haikou Vocational Tourism School (HVTS), and Wu Baier, Vice General Manager of Henghe Materials and Technology Company.
Chen said that, since 2016, the central government had put vocational education at the top of its agenda, and the MOE, by implementing a series of policy documents on education reform and the development of modern vocational education, had made remarkable progress in building the world’s largest vocational education system, improving the student admission and training mechanisms and enhancing the double-position teaching workforce.
Repositioning vocational education as a type rather than a level of education
Deng Yunfeng listed a group of numbers in 2020 to illustrate the significant results of vocational education reform in Shandong Province: a) the college enrollment rate for vocational school graduates has been increased from 17% to 25%; b) over 70% of secondary vocational graduates continued their study in higher-level education institutions; c) newly enrolled secondary vocational students in the whole province reached 444,000, up 10.8% over the previous year, of whom 25,000 achieved scores higher than the average scores required to be admitted by regular schools; and newly enrolled higher vocational students amounted to 368,000, of whom 24,000 witnessed their scores surpassing the average scores needed by regular colleges.
Deng noted that one of the most effective policy measures for raising the position of vocational education in his province was the establishment of a new enrolment mechanism for higher vocational education that is equivalent to Gaokao, featuring examinations on both general knowledge (Chinese language, Math and English) and technical skills. The mechanism helped lure more high-achieving students to vocational colleges.
According to Chen Ziji, the biggest breakthrough made in vocational education reform during the 13th Five-Year Plan period was the vertical expansion of vocational education to include undergraduate programs and its horizontal interaction with continuing education and regular education, which facilitated the establishment of a modern vocational education system.
It is stated in the National Implementation Plan for Vocational Education Reform issued by the State Council in January 2019 that “as two types of education, vocational education and regular education are equally important”. Chen said that this statement confirmed the significant position of vocational education in China’s talent cultivation system. As such, robust efforts had been taken to enhance the unique features of vocational education, including deepening school-enterprise cooperation to facilitate integration of education and practice, and aligning talent training with the practical needs of economic and social development.
To date, there are a total of 11,500 vocational schools in China with 28.57 million registered students. This year, over 6 million students were enrolled in secondary vocational schools, accounting for 41.7% of the total students enrolled in upper-secondary education; and 4.84 million students were admitted to vocational colleges, representing 52.9% of the total students admitted to higher education institutions this year. In total, vocational colleges produced 54.52 million graduates through continuing education programs and offered community training for 320 million people.
Training high-caliber technical talent to support economic and social development
At the press conference, both representatives from vocational education establishments talked of the good employment opportunities available for graduates from their schools. For Shenzhen Polytechnic, every year, over 10% of its graduates were employed by well-known enterprises such as Huawei, Tencent and BYD, and its employment rate in 2020 reached 96.97%. HVTS had established strategic partnerships with over 40 enterprises, and nearly a hundred companies eagerly seek a position in the school’s campus career fairs every year.
According to official statistics, vocational schools across the country provide education in over 1,200 disciplines, covering almost all areas of China’s economy, and produce around 10 million high-caliber technical talent every year. In modern manufacturing and emerging strategic industries, more than 70% of new frontline employees are graduates from vocational schools.
Chen noted that the biggest achievement made in vocational education during the 13th FYP period was the cultivation of a great number of technical talents who can serve national strategies and regional development, playing a significant role in poverty alleviation and the promotion of educational equity.
With an investment of over 1.8 billion yuan, action plans for hand-in-hand collaboration between western and eastern vocational schools witnessed the establishment of 683 joint training programs and 338 joint practical training bases, which offered job skill enhancement for 160,000 people and entrepreneurship training for 23,000 people. Over 70% of vocational students come from rural areas and millions of families embraced the first generation of college students in their family history thanks to vocational education—these facts demonstrated the remarkable role of vocational education in promoting educational equity, which was further ensured by the enlarged enrolment of 3 million students in vocational colleges over the past three years.
Wu Baier explained how school-enterprise cooperation helped improve his company’s economic performance. By inviting a national-level famous teacher from Ningbo Polytechnic as its chief engineer, the Henghe Materials & Technology Company has initiated a technological reform, which helped it turn loss into profit within a year and double its output in three years.
Chen added that the biggest highlight in vocational education during the 13th FYP period was its further opening up to industries, enterprises, and the whole world. He said that 1,500 vocational education groups and 56 vocational education steering committees had been established, with over 2,200 corporations participating in modern apprenticeship pilot projects. China had established partnerships with over 70 countries and international organization in facilitating exchanges in vocational education, and 400 vocational colleges had cooperated with their foreign counterparts in jointly running training programs.
Pushing forward high-quality development of vocational education
Chen reviewed policy measures taken in the last five years that paved the way for high-quality development of vocational education, such as the establishment of an inter-ministerial joint conference system for vocational education under the stewardship of the State Council, making substantial progress in revising the Vocational Education Law, improving the National Teaching Standard System for Vocational Education, and facilitating the establishment of 558 modern apprenticeship projects and 203 national teaching resource libraries for vocational education.
Looking forward to the next five years, Chen proposed several measures in institutional support for high-quality vocational education development. First, the admission mechanism of vocational colleges needs to be further bolstered to allow any secondary vocational graduate to have the opportunity to enter any vocational college; the integration of regular and vocational education should be strengthened to facilitate teaching resource sharing and student exchanges; and the national qualification system has to be improved to specify the mutual recognition of vocational and regular education diplomas, so as to enable students of the two types of education to enjoy equal rights in certain areas.
In addition, operational support for a better vocational education system should also be put in place, including establishment of talent data platforms; timely release of talent demand reports; provision of science-based guidance on discipline setup, enrolment scale, cultivation goals for vocational schools; improvement of teaching standards, school-enterprise cooperation mechanism based on property rights protection and benefit sharing, double-position teacher capacity building system, and teaching quality monitoring system.
Finally, Chen stressed that equitable enrolment and employment systems had to be improved to ensure vocational education students enjoy the same opportunities as regular education students in enrolment by higher education institutions, and job hunting, remuneration and promotion.