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China – Government to overhaul education system to close skills gap

09 June 2014

A record 7.3 million graduates, the equivalent of the entire population of Hong Kong, will enter the Chinese job market this year; a market renowned for its shortage of skilled workers. However, many of the graduates are ill-equipped to fill those jobs, prompting the government to look at how it can overhaul the higher education system to bridge the gap, reports business-standard.com.

After 13 years of aggressive policy to expand academic colleges, China had almost seven times as many new university students last year than in 1998. Experts claim, however, that the rapid growth has compromised the quality of the education on offer.

Chen Yu, Director of the China Institute for Occupation Research at Peking University, commented: "Understanding of oneself and the job market, and training and education to face the job market, these are all missing in our ivory-tower style education.”

Part of the problem also lies with the students, who harbour unrealistic expectations, especially as China's economic growth loses momentum.

Chinese graduates are less willing than their Western peers to take blue-collar jobs, work in smaller companies, or start their own businesses, hoping to land steady jobs instead in the government or high-paying white-collar work, Mr Yu explained.

The Ministry for Education plans to turn more than 600 of its 879 local universities into higher-education vocational colleges.

"Vocational education has a bearing on China's economic transformation and upgrading... and on the employment of hundreds of millions in the labour force," Yu Zhengsheng, the fourth-ranked member in the elite Politburo Standing Committee of the Communist Party, told a meeting of the national political advisory body earlier this month.

In recent years, graduates from higher vocational schools, which rank below universities in the Chinese system, have consistently done better in finding jobs than standard college graduates, Education Vice Minister Lu Xin told the People's Daily, the official newspaper of the ruling Communist Party, in a separate interview.

About 80% of higher vocational school graduates last year found jobs, compared with two-thirds of college graduates, according to a report from the 21st Century Education Research Institute. Vocational college graduates also earned a higher average starting salary, CNY 3,291 (USD 534) a month compared with an average CNY 3,157 (USD 512) for students from China's top-100 universities.

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