Expansion of vocational education in neoliberal China: hope and despair among rural youth

Anita Koo*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

36 Citations (Scopus)


The rise of China as the world factory in the last few decades has been accompanied by a rapid expansion in vocational education. A growing number of youth from rural backgrounds now have the chance to receive post-compulsory education in vocational training schools. Using human capital theory as an analytical focus, this study examines their strong desire to acquire educational credentials and explores the stress and frustration they experience after finding out that graduates in vocational schools are sent to factories to work as cheap labourers. This article argues that reform of the educational system in post-reform China has channelled a large group of rural youth to vocational education without granting them enough chance of upward mobility. When China relies heavily on a labour-intensive manufacturing economy to secure its place in neoliberal globalization, most of the jobs available are regarded as ‘undesirable’, dead-end and low income. Returns of human capital investment among rural youth are not guaranteed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)46-59
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Education Policy
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jan 2016

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Education

User-Defined Keywords

  • China
  • educational expansion
  • human capital
  • neoliberalism
  • Vocational education


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