Knowledge, higher education and human capital: a case study of professional Master’s programmes in China

Zhang, Xunzhe (2017) Knowledge, higher education and human capital: a case study of professional Master’s programmes in China. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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A growing number of master’s programmes have become more professional, but less academic and research-orientated, to meet labour market needs. For example, new professional master’s programmes were introduced in China 2009. They have grown rapidly and now account for almost half the number of full-time master’s entrants. However, why are professional master’s programmes expected to meet labour market needs better? In the related literature, the connection between higher education and the labour market has usually been explained by human capital, and economic evidence has supported this connection. However, few studies have considered why human capital can explain the relationship between higher education and the labour market.

This research looks at this why question from the perspective of knowledge. Based on existing theories, this research hypothesises that knowledge can link higher education to human capital. It establishes a conceptual framework which links knowledge, higher education, the labour market, and human capital. Based on the why question and framework, there are three specific sub-issues: what knowledge did students learn, how students learned it, and the role of knowledge in the labour market.

This thesis uses a case study to address these issues. It examines China’s new professional master’s programmes against the background of economic restructuring in China. During the fieldwork at a university in China, twenty-six semi-structured interviews with students and academic staff were conducted. Government policy documents, ten course programmes, and 380 job advertisements were collected. The findings are set out briefly below.

First, students learned six categories of knowledge in the professional master’s programmes. The six categories of knowledge were analysed as type I (propositional or conceptual codified knowledge), type II (process or procedural tacit knowledge), and type III (personal or dispositional tacit knowledge). Secondly, students learned the six categories of knowledge through four types of professional practicum, and they learned different categories of knowledge through different types of practicum. Thirdly, the role of knowledge in industry and the labour market in China was interpreted from different perspectives: government policy, course design, labour market needs, academic staff and students.

The findings of knowledge types and their roles explained what constitute the human capital of R&D engineering professionals, and identified two kinds of human capital: research human capital and engineering application human capital. The findings develop the definition and classification of human capital. The findings concerning the practicum explained that different types of programmes can transmit different kinds of knowledge, thus making a contribution to understanding human capital formation.

The overall findings illustrate that knowledge is the reason why human capital can explain the relationship between higher education and the labour market, and why professional master’s programmes can better meet labour market needs. The knowledge learned in professional master’s programmes consists of types I, II and III knowledge. Type I knowledge can form research human capital, and can be learned in academic master’s programmes. Types II and III knowledge can form engineering application human capital. They are practical and tacit, and need to be accumulated through practice. In China’s economic restructuring, the engineering industry labour market wants the engineering application human capital, i.e. types II and III knowledge. The new professional master’s programmes, designed with a professional practicum, were introduced to meet this need. Through multiple industry-based practices, students learned types II and III knowledge and can thus possess the engineering application human capital. Therefore, they can meet labour market needs better than students from research master’s programmes, which have no practicum.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Morgan, W.J.
Subjects: H Social sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor
L Education > LA History of education
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Social Sciences, Law and Education > School of Education
Item ID: 38983
Depositing User: Zhang, Xunzhe
Date Deposited: 19 Jul 2017 04:40
Last Modified: 14 Oct 2017 16:21

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