The Emergence of Vocational/Professional Training in Expanded Higher Education Systems in East Asia

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Societies in East Asia have experienced a massive expansion of higher education in recent decades. Under the strong influence of Confucian culture, families place a high value on education and children usually have high educational goals. Once the education systems have expanded, they attracted students from different socio-economic backgrounds to enrol in postsecondary programs. The earned tertiary credentials are expected to increase the young people’s employability and future income. However, the more inclusive higher education systems do not necessarily promote upward mobility or narrow the social inequalities in occupational outcomes. Students from higher socio-economic background are found to maintain social privilege in obtaining a well-recognized university degree in prestigious traditional professional fields.
Rather than examining the mechanisms of social exclusion in the increasingly stratified higher education sector, this paper focuses on the new mobility opportunities brought by the diversified tertiary curricula in the expanded system. Using the development of accredited nursing programs in Hong Kong as a case example, this paper critically investigates the role of newly emerged professional/vocational programs in the massified higher education sector. It reveals how tertiary institutes have expanded to embrace vocational training as occupations have become more professionalized and university-based for their initial education. Unlike traditional professional degree that prepare someone to work in a prestigious field, such as medicine and law, the emerging professional programs have less restrictive admission requirements but have high market value. They are designed to provide students with a professional credential that leads them to a stable well-paid job in the increasingly competitive and precarious Asian labour market. Findings of the paper have a large theoretical implication on the life chances posed by an expansion of higher education under the challenges of increasing social inequalities in East Asian societies.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2023
EventXX ISA World Congress of Sociology - Melbourne, Australia
Duration: 25 Jun 20231 Jul 2023 (Conference website) (Conference programme)


ConferenceXX ISA World Congress of Sociology
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