China’s New TVET Policy

Interview of China Daily – European Weekly with Helmut Schoenleber of GIZ

What role does GIZ play in promoting the vocational training cooperation between Germany or even Europe and Shenyang? What are the main achievements? 

We have been cooperating with China in technical and vocational education and training (TVET) for more than 30 years. In three decades, we assisted the Chinese Ministry of Education (MOE), the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security (MoHRSS), provincial government institutions in charge of vocational education and many individual vocational schools and training centers to improve the results of their efforts in training young people according to the needs of the business community. During the first two decades, German enthusiasm in this type of cooperation was much stronger than Chinese demand, while since the third decade, Chinese interest grew noticeably, but German financial support declined.

China Daily European Weekly Wins International Newspaper Award

China Daily European Weekly Wins International Newspaper Award

During the first decades, we at GIZ have been convinced that it makes no sense to try and apply the German vocational education system 100% in China. Our two countries have much in common, but there are differences in traditions, the mentality of the people, and the political environment. We aimed to promote some localized version of German best practice in China. Localized means a version of the German system that is adapted to Chinese framework conditions. But just recently, China has been asking more and more to learn the authentic German TVET system. The new trend is to make Chinese framework conditions fit to an excellent TVET system rather than to make the excellent system fit to conditions.

I think this is actually one of our main achievements. Our predecessor organizations and today’s GIZ have trained, both in Germany and in China, thousands of Chinese vocational teachers, school principals and deans, educational policy researchers and government officials. Almost everyone working in vocational education in China is quite familiar with the German “dual” vocational education system and its advantages. All these people understand now why a small country without natural resources such as Germany can become so successful as a global supplier of top quality products. The secret is the excellence of Germany’s workforce, guaranteed by the excellence of its vocational education system.

Shenyang, Liaoning, and all of Northeast China have been a special focus of Sino-German cooperation in TVET since the 1980s. We first supported some selected schools in improving training for selected vocations, such as welding, CNC, or automobile mechatronics. In the 1990s, we assisted in the development of vocational education research institutions. One on the national level in Beijing, one in Shanghai, and one in Liaoning. They are still important providers of political advice to the MOE and the State Council today. The MOE vice minister, Mrs. Lu Xin, is quite familiar with the German dual system of vocational education, and she was the vice governor of Liaoning province at the time.

How do you view the  significance of “decisions on advancing the development of modern vocational  training” issued by the State Council in June?  

We were all waiting eagerly for this long-announced new policy paper on vocational education in China, which we expected to include some major reforms and big innovation. Vice Minister Mme Lu Xin introduced a few key aspects of the new policy during the China Development Forum in March 2014. After that, it took three more months before Document No. 19 was issued by the State Council. Quite honestly, when I first read through it, I was much disappointed. Yes, there are some novel points on practice-oriented examinations and easier ways to switch from higher vocational education to university education. There are some new points on turning universities into higher education institutions of applied sciences.

MOE Vice Minister Lu Xin at the China Development Forum 2014

MOE Vice Minister Lu Xin at the China Development Forum 2014

There is also some talk about stronger involvement of enterprises and industrial sectors in education. What I had expected but still found missing was that the business communities would actually take over the responsibility for vocational education in their sectors. In my opinion, it is the business community and not the government who needs well-trained workers. Enterprises are the prime beneficiaries of an excellent TVET system, not the government. But the State Council Document No. 19 is still focusing on the government and its schools being in charge of TVET. It says, the government will provide tax breaks and other benefits for enterprises who participate in vocational education. I had been hoping for a clearer and much stronger role and initiative of enterprises and the business communities in all TVET matters.

Maybe my expectations were too high, and China just needs more time. I recognize that the document is revolutionary in terms of the importance it applies to vocational education. It aims to deal with one of the most fundamental problems of vocational education in China: the fact that all parents hope their child will go to university, and very few parents hope their child will go to vocational school – he or she might have to get his or her hands dirty in his or her later job! Document No. 19 is an effort to make vocational education socially acceptable. If it succeeds in that, other improvements to the TVET system will be much easier to make.

Compared with Germany vocational training system, what are the  deficiencies of China’s vocational system? How can we learn from Germany?  

The main difference is exactly what I just mentioned hoping for in the new State Council policy. In Germany, enterprises and the business communities are clearly responsible for vocational education. A vocational student in Germany first has to find an enterprise, his parents have to sign a vocational training contract with the enterprise, before a vocational school will be assigned. The German TVET law says: institutions in charge of vocational education are the chambers of commerce and industry, the chambers of skilled crafts, the chambers of independent professions, depending on the vocation to be learned. All these chambers are organizations of the business communities, they are institutions of public law where majority decisions are made by all entrepreneurs of a region, who are mandatory members of their chamber. This includes all important decisions on vocational education. I am afraid such institutions have not yet been established in modern China.

Vocational education in Germany means training young people according to the current and future needs of the business community. Young people are quite sure to find a job for life at the enterprise that trains them, and they can expect to be paid more than a university graduate with little practical experience. This is the reason for most young people and their parents to accept a vocational education being just about equal to a university education. By the way, in Germany we are not afraid to get our hands dirty on the job.

Do u think it is urgent for China to push forward the vocational training to make China move up the value chain, transforming from made in china to high quality manufacturing?

High quality manufacturing can be achieved in two ways: (1) a very high level of automation, by using high-precision and highly reliable machinery and equipment and very few people; (2) by using highly qualified people to manufacture things not to be produced by robots. We are already seeing a lot of (1) in China, with robots – many of them made in Germany – producing the latest iPhones and BMWs, but (2) is much more typical for Germany than for China.

Each country does not have to aim at doing everything better than each other country. It is a key element of globalization that we efficiently share work between countries. The German government is promoting the computerization of traditional industries such as manufacturing, which is expected to form the next industrial revolution within ten to twenty years. It is called Industry 4.0. On the other hand, China was able to skip several evolutionary steps it took Western countries to reach new technological milestones. For example, your country never really introduced video tapes, but jumped directly to the VCD. China can build airports in one or two years, while Germany needs to discuss a new airport ten years before starting to build it. So, each country has its competitive advantage. One of China’s big advantages is speed, one of Germany’s is high quality. But to maintain high speed, you still need a highly qualified work force, and that means you need a TVET system governed by the business community.