Academic journal article China: An International Journal

Decentralisation and the Development of Vocational Education in China

Academic journal article China: An International Journal

Decentralisation and the Development of Vocational Education in China

Article excerpt

Facing the increasing challenges that have arisen from greater global competition, China has undergone a series of educational reforms aimed at increasing its competitiveness on the international stage. (1) Since 1985, the Chinese Government has emphasised the importance of delegating authority over basic education to the local governments. "Responsibility of the local government and management by different ranks of local government" became the major tenet of educational reform. Under the policy of decentralisation in basic education, the roles and relationships of the central and local governments were strongly affected. Looking at the situation at the school level, what authority and autonomy over school administration, finances, curriculum and personnel have local governments gained? Did the major stakeholders, such as principals and teachers, gain more opportunities to participate in policymaking? Have they gained greater authority and responsibility, as the advocates of decentralisation policy expected?

This paper represents an attempt to investigate the roles of both the central and local governments under the decentralisation policy, as well as the autonomy of schools in China. Through examining how decentralisation policy was implemented, our intention is to understand the nature of decentralisation in China, as well as to provide some suggestions for related policies on educational reform.

Decentralisation in Education

Decentralisation refers to the delegation of authority and responsibility from high rank institutions to lower rank institutions. (2) Academic discourse distinguishes three levels of decentralisation: deconcentration, delegation and devolution. Deconcentration refers to the central government's delegating responsibility but not authority to local institutions. In contrast, delegation refers to the central government's granting considerable policy-making rights to local institutions, while maintaining the power to withdraw these rights at any time. Devolution refers to the issuance of full authority to local institutions, rendering them highly autonomous and without the need to ask for higher-level approval at any time. Furthermore, under devolution, the central government does not have the right to re-assume the authority which was delegated to local institutions. (3)

Advocates of decentralisation argue that it helps to mobilise local resources, offers more opportunities for local stakeholders to participate and improves the overall efficiency of the school. They also argue that implementing a policy of decentralisation allows schools to better respond to local needs and generally improves the quality of education. (4)

Over the past few decades, decentralisation has become the main focus of educational reform in many countries. Government officials in several countries have hoped that decentralisation policy would allow for more autonomy for schools, thus encouraging new ideas for the reform of teaching and learning. Their overall hope was that the policy would foster the talents needed to face the challenge of globalisation and the new knowledge economy. (5) Reform was also expected to generate innovative ideas in teaching and learning that would meet specific local needs. It was hoped that new education reforms would have the dual effect of raising both the general performance level of students and the national level of competitiveness.

In the Chinese context, a review of the discussion on decentralisation shows a focus on the changing role of the central and local governments. While Mok's research reveals a retreat on the part of the state during the 1990s, (6) Lin and Robinson have put forth a different view, believing that the central government still uses direct or indirect ways to macro-monitor the local governments under decentralisation. (7) Yip contends that the only time the local governments possessed autonomy was during the process of implementing state policies. …

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