Discipline Heads' Lived Experiences of Implementing Higher Vocational Education Curriculum Reform in China

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Tyler, Mark

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Bagnall, Richard

Hodge, Steven

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Higher vocational education (HVE) curriculum reform has been instituted in recent years by the Chinese government in response to economic imperatives. Reform policy has aimed to improve the performance of HVE colleges in contributing to the development of highly skilled manpower for labour markets through reforming their curriculum to be more responsive to the needs of industry. Discipline heads in HVE colleges may be seen as having a significant leadership role in the implementation of that reform policy. However, there is a dearth of research-based knowledge of their involvement and experience of working in that role. This study, then, sought to investigate discipline heads’ lived experiences of implementing the HVE reform policy. It focused on (1) the heads’ understanding of the policy and how to implement it, (2) the factors influencing their reform efforts, (3) the impact of those efforts, and (4) how the implementation of the policy may be better supported. It was phenomenological in nature, using data obtained through semi-structured, in-depth interviews with 15 HVE discipline heads from two public HVE colleges in a city of the Yangtze River delta. Participants were selected from a diversity of vocational education disciplines. Thematic analysis was used to identify emergent concepts in each of the focal areas. The findings suggested participants' understanding of reform policy was initially limited but that they accessed interpretations that eventually facilitated understanding. Twelve emergent factors were identified as important in influencing participants’ implementation: commitment to the curriculum reform, industry involvement in it, relationships with industry, industry feedback, industry experience and knowledge, professional development, teacher recruitment, funding and facilities, the rewards and recognition scheme, teachers’ response to curriculum reform tasks, teacher collaboration, and student attitudes to learning. The participants’ engagement with the process was seen as leading to a sense of frustration on their part, unethical practice, a sense of achievement, and only limited impact on student learning. Their implementation of the reform policy was found to call for: more professional development, greater industry involvement, increasing funding and facilities, more systemic incentives for industry involvement, reform of the recruitment system, more authority to discipline heads, and more official collaboration with industry. It was concluded that implementation of the reform policy was influenced by the following contingencies. The implementation was facilitated by (1) the multiple interpretations of key aspects of the reform policy across the college managers, educational experts, educational materials, and the research participants. However, the implementation was limited by (2) the lack of a systemic response to the need for industry involvement, (3) the recruitment of inappropriate teachers, (4) insufficient funds and facilities, (5) a flawed rewards and recognition scheme, (6) authoritarian college leadership, and (7) the challenges posed by the curriculum reform to the discipline heads’ professional identities and their vocational education practice. Four implications for the implementation of curriculum reform in HVE were identified: (1) that government and HVE colleges should provide informative policy interpretation in order to facilitate discipline heads’ and teachers’ policy understanding and implementation; (2) that discipline heads and teachers should work to create a collaborative culture in support of the implementation; (3) that government and HVE colleges should ensure that the key implementation decisions are grounded in the lived realities of the discipline heads and teachers responsible for the implementation; and (4) that government and HVE colleges should work to create sufficient accessible opportunities for discipline heads and teachers to ensure the strength and depth of their industry experience. Further research was recommended into: (1) the factors contributing to the diversity of interpretations of HVE reform policy and the impact of that diversity on policy implementation; (2) the effectiveness of different kinds of professional development in facilitating HVE teachers’ industry knowledge; (3) different kinds of rewards and recognition schemes and their impact on HVE reform policy implementation; and (4) the implementation of HVE reform policy across different socio-economic and cultural contexts.

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Thesis (PhD Doctorate)

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


School Educ & Professional St

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Higher vocational education

Curriculum reform


Discipline heads

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