PRC Higher Ed: German Model 1, US Model 0

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 6/25/2014 07:14:00 PM
Some assembly required...but not vision in putting engines together.
As we await the outcome of the upcoming World Cup match between Germany and the United States, it appears that the Europeans have already won out in another respect: China is moving away from prioritizing university education to prioritizing technical/vocational education. This is a follow-up to a recent post I made on how the Western-style university system is taking a beating even in China for not providing graduates of much worth in the job market. In the parlance of us educators who actually give a damn about whether our students find work after graduation, it's called the "job-skill mismatch." Quite frankly it reflects poorly on educators and parents alike who delude themselves into thinking that college is so great when it really isn't. That said, it's certainly true that the Chinese have some Western envy when it comes to higher education. Witness the now-famous Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) compiled by Shanghai Jiao Tong University.

To make a long story short, after an aborted effort to model Chinese universities after those in the United States, they appear to be changing course. I believe the moribund US jokeonomy has played its part in dissuading the Chinese about the foolhardiness of copying America's education system: shrinking -2.9% in the most recent quarter doesn't inspire confidence in the US. Witness much higher targets now being placed for technical/vocational education:
A guideline issued by China’s State Council on Sunday aims to increase the number of students in vocational educational institutions from 29.34 million now, to 38.3 million by 2020. The total that year will be made up of 23.5 million studying at vocational high schools and 14.8 million in vocational colleges; the latter usually run programs lasting two to three years.
Where will the resources come from for much-expanded technical/vocational education? They are going to convert a lot of universities in China into vocational colleges. There will be no doubt where the PRC's priorities lie if this comes to fruition:
Some 600 universities could be converted into vocational colleges, adding to the 1,300 China already has, which graduated around 6 million students last year. While China already has the world’s largest number of vocational institutes (13,600 schools and colleges), they are underfunded, need upgraded facilities, and suffer faculty shortages, according to Ge Daokui, the director responsible for vocational studies at the education ministry.
Is it going to be a straight-up copy of the German apprenticeship model which is usually the one that comes to mind when discussing successful technical/vocational systems? Not really. Especially since PRC corporations aren't as well-established or as proven in training young people, it will be, ah, technical/vocational education with Chinese characteristics:
Liu Qiaoli, a researcher at the National Institute of Education Sciences, said traditional Chinese thought values people's morality more than skills, which makes the country's modern vocational education deficient at the start. "Now the top leadership, including Premier Li Keqiang, are redefining modern vocational education. He connects it with improving people's livelihoods and the country's development, and he acknowledges the essential role of vocational education," she said.

Liu said most of the vocational schools in China still take the initiative in teaching and in course planning, rather than using the models of foreign countries, such as Germany, that rely on industry-school cooperation. "In many cases, education-related organizations are the ones that care about improving vocational education. Companies and employers don't have strong motives. It is important for them to recognize the importance of developing vocational education. It means a lot to the companies and the country."
It's a massive vote of no confidence by the world's largest nation in the increasingly irrelevant American model of higher education. Like in so many other things, it's better to follow Germany than the US.