social bias drives vocational students to higher degrees, says researcher

context: Researcher Xu Hui 许辉, also a PhD candidate at the Friedrich Schiller University Jena, Germany, has been studying issues with the PRC's vocational education system since 2017. According to Xu's fieldwork, despite the growing emphasis on vocational training to address skills shortages in the manufacturing sector, graduates from vocational colleges increasingly perceive better opportunities in pursuing higher degrees at universities rather than working in factories.

Vocational school programs in the PRC have failed to train highly skilled workers for industry needs, laments Xu Hui 许辉 Sino–German Centre for Skill and Social Development researcher. According to Xu's study, 70 percent of graduates in a vocational college opt for pursuing further degrees, instead of entering the workforce directly in their chosen fields. This inclination stems from societal pressures and the prejudice that white-collar jobs extend higher status.

Within the current degree-oriented education system, vocational colleges offering zhuanke 专科 programs, which are non-degree courses, have the advantage of establishing themselves as vocational bachelor's degree institutions if more graduates are transitioning to a higher degree. This in turn brings more state funding for their operations, Xu discovered.

Xu challenges the notion that technological advancements in automation will render manufacturing jobs obsolete. On the contrary, the growing reliance on advanced technologies has resulted in a skilled labour shortage, particularly in highly skilled sectors. The government has been pouring in resources to boost vocational education and train specialised workers who possess in-demand skills, Xu notes.

The researcher sheds light on a number of factors contributing to the imbalance in the job market

  • vocational school students' aspiring for white-collar jobs
    • successful transitions from vocational schools to bachelor's degree programs are highly regarded given the persistent bias towards academic paths
  • lack of career planning among vocational school students
    • many are uncertain about their future career and often choose their majors based on their parents' preferences rather than personal interests
    • they know little about development as skilled workers in the manufacturing field due to inadequate career guidance and limited exposure to industry prospects at school
  • students' dissatisfaction with the quality of vocational ed
    • limited practical training fails to adequately prepare them for industry demands
    • factory internships often involve repetitive tasks, offering few opportunities to improve their skills