REAP Awarded 3ie Grant to Evaluate Vocational Education in China

Among hundreds of applicants, REAP was one of only 25 groups to secure a competitive grant from the International Initiative for Impact Evaluation, or 3ie, to assess the value of expanding vocational education training (VET) in China.

Read below for a summary of the proposed study.


Investment in Vocational vs. General Schooling: Evaluating China’s Expansion of Vocational Education and Laying the Foundation for Further Vocational Education Evaluation

A key policy question in developing countries, including China, is how to balance investments between vocational and general education in a way that supports economic growth and reduces social inequality. There is no definitive study in any developing country on the returns to vocational education and training (VET). In the absence of information on how VET might affect the earnings of workers, it is unclear if recent efforts of the Chinese government to expand VET are sound. If the returns are negligible, the government might consider slowing the expansion or improving the quality of VET.

Additionally, it is estimated that only about 40% of the students that graduate from junior high school in poor, rural areas continue with their studies; the rest enter the unskilled labour force. Why are these rates so low? Surprisingly, little is known about the factors that keep students out of school. There is no systematic study of what is working in VET and what is not. Despite the rapid expansion of VET, China has set up few mechanisms to evaluate the quality of VET programs.

The goal of this project is to help the Chinese government evaluate the effectiveness of the expansion of VET. It aims to provide empirical evidence on the returns to VET; the factors that might keep disadvantaged students from receiving quality schooling; and measure the quality and cost-effectiveness of VET programs.

This study will estimate the returns from VET versus general schooling using various “quasi-experimental” methods. It will follow a randomized control trial design and randomly assign junior high students to programmes that provide vouchers for VET schooling, vouchers for academic schooling, and academic counselling for students to become better informed about their schooling/employment options. The project will assess if students work harder, perform better and matriculate to academic high school and VET at higher rates when they have sufficient financial aid and counselling. Finally, it will also develop an Entrance/Exit Examination that can be used by principals of VET institutions and local officials in charge of VET to assess the quality of their programs. The findings of these quality studies of VET will be useful in influencing policy on one of China’s most debated education issues.