CHINA - Pre-school teacher Wu Zheng enjoys working with kids though she has some regrets about never having gone to university.
Wanting to enter the workforce early after junior high school, and fearing that she could not pass the national college entrance examination, or gaokao, she went to a vocational high school instead.
From there, Ms Wu, now 23, went on to a vocational college before taking up a 2,000 yuan (S$405) a month job teaching at a Beijing kindergarten last September.
“I’m relieved I have a job that I love, though I feel if I had gone to a university, I would have a different personality as a graduate,” she told The Straits Times.
China is hoping many more students will soon follow Ms Wu’s path, and plans to roll out a series of changes that will elevate and improve vocational education, long the less-prestigious sibling of a university degree.
The changes come at a time when there are too many jobless university graduates and not enough skilled workers.
After more than a decade of letting its universities and graduate numbers mushroom, China is now seeking to turn 600 universities into higher-education vocational colleges, which are also known as da zhuan.
It also plans to tweak gaokao – which is now open only to high school graduates – by opening it to students from vocational high schools and testing them more on their technical skills than academics.
Both policy amendments were revealed late last month by Vice-Minister for Education Lu Xin, though she did not give a timeline for rolling them out.
The changes are part of a “modern vocational education programme” approved in late February at the State Council meeting helmed by Premier Li Keqiang.
“I have been calling for a cutback on the number of white-collar job-seekers and an increase in the pool of blue-collar workers that the workforce sorely needs,” Renmin University labour expert Liu Erduo told The Straits Times.
A survey by China’s Labour Ministry showed that in the middle of last year, there were 100 job applicants for every 80 white-collar jobs. For blue-collar positions, the results were reversed; there were only 100 applicants for every 125 openings.
A key reason for the white-collar glut and blue-collar shortfall, analysts say, is the unfettered expansion of universities since 1999. That year, China had 848,000 graduates from 1,071 universities, of which 474 were vocational colleges and 597 normal universities, known as benke yuanxiao.
In 2012, the number grew to 6.2 million graduates from some 2,400 universities, of which 1,300 were vocational colleges and 1,100 normal universities.