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CBBC Insights: Education | How China’s search for skilled graduates helps the UK

BritCham / CBBC
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By Jane Zhang
China-Britain Business Council
China’s education system has been criticised for failing to produce enough skilled graduates, a deficiency which can be partly attributed to the focus on academic courses, as opposed to vocational ones. Imminent reforms to higher education are expected to have a sizeable impact on the employability of graduates and on the education system as a whole. 
The reforms will simultaneously help British institutions and companies. China has acknowledged its admiration of the German model: vocational training is a core element of the German education system and the environment is favourable to skilled workers and their career development. The UK has similar expertise to share with China.
Why China is reforming its universities
The Chinese employment market has shown a strong imbalance in recent years: on the one hand, there is a surplus of university graduates; yet on the other, employers struggle to find qualified skilled staff. It is estimated that for every two skilled workers an employer needs, only one can be found in the present labour market. The search gets even harder when advanced skills are sought, with the ratio falling as low as one in six or even eight. 
The university enrolment rate is currently 26 per cent; that is, a quarter of 18- to 22-year-olds receive higher education. While this results in a huge number of graduates each year, the inadequate provision of vocational skills leaves employers short of those with the right qualities. Structural employment – whereby there are unemployed graduates and yet companies cannot find suitable staff – is a problem. The average graduate employment rate is currently only 77.4 per cent.
In a nutshell, reform is necessary to satisfy the needs of industry. Vice-Premier Liu Yandong said recently that China should have a diverse workforce of people with different specialisms. Different types of university are required to achieve this. 
What the reforms entail 
Vice Education Minister Lu Xin has publicly stated that education reform is the key to resolving the imbalance in China’s current employment structure, identifying a “modern vocational system” as the way to foster more skilled graduates. This strategic adjustment would mainly be aimed at secondary and higher education.
China has approximately 1,200 tertiary institutions and the Government has called for half of these to be converted into vocational colleges in the coming years. To support this move, a second type of university entrance exam will be introduced, which will have consequences for secondary teaching, too.
Officially, it has been announced that the cohort due for conversion includes 600 or so regional universities, including some which were upgraded from colleges to universities in 1999. It is not clear exactly which 600 universities are on the list, however, and rumours have already surfaced about which they might be. Many of these institutions, of course, would not willingly opt for a perceived downgrade of this kind – although according to the Ministry of Education, more than 150 have already registered their willingness to become vocational institutions. 
Opportunities for British institutions and companies
Firstly, British vocational institutions may find chances to cooperate with the 600 universities earmarked for conversion, especially if the UK courses on offer – in engineering disciplines or advanced IT, for example – complement the needs of their Chinese counterparts.
Secondly, the Chinese Government has stated that it encourages the involvement of companies in the development of its new vocational system. This would enable students to hone practical skills while simultaneously giving the host companies access to useful employees. British companies may find opportunities to link up with Chinese institutions in this capacity. 
Higher education reform is an important, ongoing focus of CBBC’s work in partnership with UKTI’s education team in China. Both organisations are looking very hard at the opportunities this reform will bring about for British institutions and businesses. 
For more information about CBBC's work in education, please contact Simon Stewart, our sector lead for education in China: simon.stewart@cbbc.org.cn.
关于教育领域的最新行业信息和问题,欢迎咨询英中贸易协会教育专家Simon Stewart:simon.stewart@cbbc.org.cn。 
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