Vocational education in China is becoming more attractive to foreign students, though there's still some work to be done that will add to its appeal and international reputation, according to educators in the field.
A total of 3,847 students from overseas studied at 69 Chinese vocational colleges during the 2015 academic year, up almost 40 percent from the year before, when only 50 vocational colleges had international students on campus, a recent report found.
The report, released in Beijing on Friday by the Shanghai Academy of Educational Sciences and education research company MyCOS Institute, found that the reputation of China's vocational colleges is growing. Some of the colleges are having an international impact through their excellence in areas such as electronics, mechanics, architecture and rail transit.
"By cooperating with educational institutions overseas, these Chinese vocational colleges will play a special and important role in the implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative," the report said, citing colleges in China's border regions and provinces, including the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, as examples.
"Some vocational colleges in Guangxi make full use of their geographic position and strong courses to attract lots of students from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations," the report said.
The skills acquired and techniques learned are usually urgently needed for the economic development of the students' home countries and are helpful in helping graduates land high-paying jobs.
However, 3,847 remains small by comparison with other college programs. Almost 400,000 students from overseas studied in China last year. Some Chinese universities that are popular with international students, such as Beijing Language and Culture University, Peking University and University of International Business and Economics each has thousands of international students on campus in any given year.
So the challenge for vocational colleges seems stark.
Ma Shuchao, former deputy director of Shanghai Academy of Educational Sciences, said many vocational courses, such as Chinese cooking, are very attractive to international students who are interested in the culture.
"However, after hearing that the courses last for only three years and culminate in a vocational certificate, many give up on the idea of coming because they prefer a four-year experience that delivers a bachelor's degree," Ma said.
Zhang Huibo, president of Ningbo Polytechnic, a vocational college in Zhejiang province, said some national-level scholarships and funds, such as the Chinese Government Scholarship, are only provided to international students at some universities in China.
"Study at a vocational college is excluded," Zhang said. "If international students could get more financial support from the Chinese government for vocational education, I believe their number would increase greatly."