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2020-10-01 09:58:15

China is pushing for the accelerated development of its vocational and technical education system.

In a three-year action plan published Tuesday, nine central government departments including the Ministry of Education and the National Development and Reform Commission said farmers, migrant workers, and military veterans should be given preferential consideration for admission at vocational colleges. The new document expounds on a previous vocational education reform plan from February 2019.

Chinese authorities have long been pushing to expand vocational education, consisting of both secondary schools and colleges, and have gradually lowered entry barriers for marginalized groups. According to the plan, farmers, migrant workers, and veterans will no longer be required to take academic tests — covering math, science, history, English, and other core curriculum subjects — if they score high enough on technical skills tests arranged by the colleges.

Typically, candidates for China’s vocational college degree programs need to meet a provincially set standard on both the academic and technical skills tests, with the former carrying greater weight. Under the new action plan, however, the technical skills test must count for at least half of a college’s admission criteria, taking priority over the academic test.

Aside from setting preferential standards for socially vulnerable groups, the action plan also requires each of China’s 14 most impoverished “contiguous areas” to establish at least one vocational high school.

By 2018, China had 11,700 vocational schools admitting over 9 million students annually, with new vocational college students accounting for around one-third of this number.

In March 2019, the State Council, China’s Cabinet, ordered vocational colleges to admit an additional 1 million students — but heeding this target has been no easy task. For years, China’s vocational colleges have been coping with low enrollment due to poor funding and limited social approval. In some cases, budget cuts have even resulted in students being shunted into fake majors.

The State Council also allocated 100 billion yuan ($14.7 billion) to support skills training nationwide. And according to a meeting announcing the fund led by Premier Li Keqiang, local governments should encourage vocational schools to enroll more workers and provide subsidies to those in need.

Now facing a slowing economy and bleak job market exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, Chinese authorities see practical skills training as a means of upgrading the domestic workforce, particularly in rural areas that remain underdeveloped.

In 2019, the government vowed to add 1 million skilled farmers over the next five years by training them at vocational colleges, in hopes that they would return to their villages and contribute to local poverty alleviation and rural rejuvenation campaigns.

Editor: David Paulk.

(Header image: Migrant workers loiter on the side of the road, hoping to find work, Beijing, Sept. 28, 2020. People Visual)