High-level Vocational

Hassan Javed

“Improving Quality and Cultivating Excellence High-level Vocational Colleges and High-level Professional (Group) Construction Training Program

High-level Vocational Colleges

Since the 21st century, the development of high-level vocational undergraduate education has become a crucial theme in the reform of vocational education in China. From a practical exploration perspective, vocational undergraduate education has undergone four stages: trial vocational four-year programs, exploring cooperation with regular universities for professional stages, establishing independent undergraduate vocational pilot schools, and promoting the steady development of vocational undergraduate education (quotes from usms.ac.ma).

Trial of Four-year Vocational Programs (2001)

In 2001, the Ministry of Education approved Shenzhen Vocational and Technical College as the sole institution to trial “four-year specialized programs.”

It employed a “3+1” model, maintaining the existing specialty names and basic academic duration.

Students were enrolled as specialized students and, after three years of study, some high-achieving students underwent an additional year of study. Upon successful completion, they received a four-year vocational education diploma.

Although the quality and social recognition were high, the inability to surpass the associate degree limitation and limited regional recognition led to instability, prompting the program to be discontinued.

Exploration of Cooperation with Regular Universities (2011 Onwards):

Several provinces, including Hebei, Guangdong, and Zhejiang, explored the cooperative establishment of undergraduate-level programs between demonstrative vocational schools and regular universities.

This involved various forms such as “3+2,” “2+2,” and “4+0,” where vocational schools collaborated with regular universities to issue academic certificates and degrees.

However, this model faced challenges due to a lack of motivation from regular universities, resulting in issues related to branding, faculty authority, and student belonging.

Independent Establishment of Undergraduate Pilot Schools (2019)

In 2019, the “Implementation Plan for National Vocational Education Reform” proposed the initiation of “undergraduate-level vocational education pilots.”

The Ministry of Education approved 22 schools for vocational undergraduate pilot programs in 2019 and 2020.

This marked the beginning of independent undergraduate vocational education in China, breaking the limitations that prevented vocational colleges from upgrading to undergraduate status (source: usms).

However, the pilot schools’ overall quality was challenging, with only one being a public institution, highlighting difficulties in aligning with the vocational education system’s development.

Promotion of Steady Development (2023)

In 2023, the Ministry of Education approved the establishment of 10 vocational undergraduate schools, further expanding the scope of vocational undergraduate education.

The total number of schools increased to 32, operating under the standards of regular undergraduate institutions. Enrollment reached 129,300 students, with an additional intake of 41,000 students in 2023.

National standards and regulations for vocational undergraduate education were gradually improved during this period.

After years of practical exploration, China’s vocational undergraduate education has achieved a certain scale and accumulated development experience. However, challenges remain, such as a limited number of schools, small-scale operations, and unclear development paths.

These issues hinder the ability to meet the demands for skilled technical talent and the public’s aspirations for vocational undergraduate education. Additionally, there is a struggle to align with the requirements of building a modern economic system.

Path Selection: Main Models for Steady Development of Vocational Undergraduate Education

Following the National Vocational Education Conference, the supporting document “Opinions on Promoting the High-Quality Development of Modern Vocational Education” issued by the Central Committee and the State Council explicitly stated the goal that “by 2025, the enrollment scale of vocational undergraduate education should not be less than 10% of the enrollment scale of higher vocational education.

Based on the current scale, assuming the enrollment scale of higher vocational education (specialized) remains stable in the next five years, the enrollment scale of vocational undergraduate education by 2025 should be no less than 550,000.

However they actual situation deviates significantly from this target, highlighting they urgent need for multiple development paths to continuously expand the enrollment scale to ensure the goal is achieved from the provisions on the establishment of vocational schools in the new “Vocational Education Law,” it can be seen that undergraduate-level vocational education can be implemented by higher vocational schools at the undergraduate level and above and regular higher education institutions. The development path for vocational undergraduate education has gradually become clear, mainly through the following approaches:

1. Upgrading Quality Higher Vocational Colleges to Establish Vocational Undergraduate Schools

Basis on Quality Higher Vocational Colleges:

Utilize well-established and high-quality higher vocational colleges as the foundation for establishing vocational undergraduate schools.

These colleges have accumulated rich experience in practical education and demonstrated high levels of educational standards.

Attributes and Direction:

Maintain the vocational education attributes and focus of the colleges during the upgrade.

Ensure that the upgraded institutions maintain their original direction and teaching models.


Be cautious about potential challenges, drawing from the experience of previous upgrades that might have led to the concentration of resources in certain areas and neglect of others.

2. Specialized Backbone Programs in Higher Vocational Colleges Offering Vocational Undergraduate Education

Requirements for Specialized Programs

Higher vocational colleges with specialized backbone programs meeting specific criteria can conduct vocational undergraduate education.

Emphasize programs that serve national strategic needs, high-end sectors of the industrial chain, and areas related to modern industry development.

Integration with Industry

Foster deep integration between education and industry, focusing on effective dual-subject education models, such as modern apprenticeship programs.

Distinctive Features

Develop programs with clear and distinctive characteristics that align with regional industrial development needs.

Quality Assurance

Ensure that programs have excellent basic conditions, high-level teaching teams, and outstanding teaching achievements.

3. Exploration of New Models by Other Schools, Institutions, or Organizations

Flexibility in Implementation

Allow other schools, education institutions, enterprises, and industry organizations to implement vocational school education at corresponding levels or provide credit courses included in talent development programs.

Legal Space for Innovation

Create legal space for further innovation in vocational undergraduate education.

In summary, the current focus should be on establishing vocational undergraduate schools based on quality higher vocational colleges, with an emphasis on gradual planning and implementation. Additionally, exploring vocational undergraduate education as part of specialized programs in higher vocational colleges can serve as an essential complementary approach. Priority should be given to pilot projects in national and provincial “Double High Plans” institutions to ensure the steady expansion of vocational undergraduate education and maintain a high starting point.

Three Key Considerations: Balancing Five Relationships for Steady Development

Steady development is the main theme for the future of vocational undergraduate education. Balancing five key relationships—speed and quality, pilot and demonstration, supply and demand, inheritance and innovation, and part and whole—is crucial to ensuring vocational undergraduate education becomes a leader in vocational education development and an avenue for optimizing higher education structure.

1. Balancing Speed and Quality: Ensuring Stability in Vocational Undergraduate Education Development

Speed: Prerequisite for Development

Moderate expansion is essential for the survival and development of vocational undergraduate education.

Ensure that the scale expansion aligns with funding, basic teaching conditions, faculty, and the quality of graduates.

Quality: Core of Development

Quality must be prioritized, with a focus on developing and improving teaching standards and evaluation criteria.

Establish comprehensive standards for professional education, internships, training bases, faculty teams, and talent development programs.

Coordinated Unity of Speed and Quality: Guarantee for Stable Development

Speed and quality must be harmonized to avoid asymmetry between scale expansion and investment, teaching conditions, faculty, and the quality of graduates.

Focus on quality during the initial development phase, prompting existing vocational undergraduate schools to improve conditions and strengthen internal development.

2. Balancing Pilot and Demonstration: Manifesting the Leadership of Vocational Undergraduate Education

Importance of Pilots

Establish pilot schools to explore development mechanisms actively.

Private schools conducting vocational undergraduate education should focus on the practice of enterprise-sponsored education.

Necessity of Demonstrations

Building brands through demonstration is an inevitable choice for vocational undergraduate education’s future development.

Cultivate a batch of brand colleges in the vocational undergraduate education field to release a demonstration effect.

Combined Role of Pilots and Demonstrations: Crucial Carrier for Promoting Steady Development

Utilize pilot schools as examples for future development.

Establish a mechanism to dynamically adjust and exit, preventing a lack of development momentum due to “labels.”

3. Handling the Five Relationships in Dialectical Unity: Key Consideration for Steady Development

Speed and Quality

Balancing Act:

Ensure moderate expansion while maintaining a focus on quality.

Upgrade vocational undergraduate education institutions gradually, improving teaching conditions.

Pilot and Demonstration

Sequential Progress:

Utilize pilot projects to explore innovative models.

Transform successful pilot projects into demonstration models for broader application.

Supply and Demand

Alignment with Industry Needs:

Focus on the development of programs that meet national and regional industrial needs.

Prioritize the establishment of vocational undergraduate education programs in areas of high demand.

Inheritance and Innovation

Maintaining Core Values:

Upgrade vocational colleges while preserving their core attributes.

Innovate in terms of teaching models, governance structures, and curriculum to align with modern needs.

Part and Whole

Systematic Development:

Develop vocational undergraduate education by building on the foundation of quality higher vocational colleges.

Ensure a balance between vocational undergraduate education and vocational colleges, preventing resource dilution.

In conclusion, handling these five relationships with a dialectical approach is essential for the steady development of vocational undergraduate education. This approach will ensure that vocational undergraduate education becomes a leader in vocational education development and contributes to the optimization of the higher education structure.

The Inevitable Trend of Vocational Undergraduate Education

Vocational undergraduate education is an essential response to the construction of the modern economic system, the optimization and adjustment of the higher education structure, and the alignment with international vocational education development. The 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China has set new and higher requirements for the development of vocational education. The “Opinions” released during the conference emphasize a shift in the functional orientation of vocational education from “employment-oriented” to “human-centered.” The reform focus has transitioned from “education” to “industry-education,” service domains are expanding from “regional” to “global,” development paths are moving from “classification” to “collaboration,” and the main entities involved in education are shifting from “singular” to “diverse.”

According to this development philosophy, vocational undergraduate education should strengthen its internal development, laying a solid foundation for future growth. However, it’s crucial to recognize that the development of vocational undergraduate education is not an instantaneous process; rather, it’s a long-term, continuously optimized, and upward-spiraling journey. Clearly defining development positioning, constructing diverse development paths, improving the national institutional standard system, enhancing key educational capabilities, and implementing contribution-based classification evaluations are not only current priorities for the steady development of vocational undergraduate education but also the main thread for future development.

Adhering to the principles of vocational undergraduate education and driving high-quality vocational education development, it is essential to make significant contributions to the modernization of education. This involves a continuous and dynamic process that requires thoughtful consideration, strategic planning, and a commitment to ongoing improvement. The focus on human-centered education, industry-education collaboration, global service orientation, collaborative development paths, and diverse educational entities will play a pivotal role in shaping the future landscape of vocational undergraduate education.

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