Send migrants to college

Updated: 2011-09-27 07:50

(China Daily)

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More than 5,000 young migrant workers in nine cities sat college entrance examinations on Sunday because a dozen institutions of higher learning, including the prestigious Peking University, plan to encourage ambitious farmers-turned-workers to go to college.

This year Guangdong province handpicked 100 outstanding migrant workers and gave them subsidies to finish distance programs Peking University offers. The province has decided to expand the number to 10,000 for the autumn semester.

These colleges and universities have designed special programs for migrant workers and waived or reduced tuition fees. This is a very important step to better incorporating migrant workers into the country's social and economic development.

In fact, China needs to make more plans to support and facilitate the development of the workers' skills.

Today's migrants are, if anything, less content than their parent's generation because their expectations are much greater.

In the past they were very limited in the kinds of jobs they could find a female migrant worker could choose between working as a nanny or a waitress. Now, there are all kinds of jobs in insurance companies and real estate firms and more.

Most young migrants have completed middle or high school. Surveys have found that they stay in their adopted cities for more than five years on average, with nearly one-fifth remaining for more than a decade. Good education is a shortcut to settling in cities and finding a better job.

The universities deserve our applause for seeing the potential in migrant workers and giving them the key to advancement. The importance of this was seen in 2009, when the economic downturn forced many coastal factories to close. Migrant workers were left jobless, and the Ministry of Education required vocational schools to enroll them as a short-term solution.

Since the country launched its economic reform, it has prospered on the back of cheap labor, cheap capital, government-led construction projects, sheer hard work and ingenuity. Migrant workers, who numbered 230 million last year, have been the key element in this.

Most of them work on assembly lines in economically booming regions and they can shape industries such as manufacturing.

China needs to develop higher valued-added products to sell abroad, and it should produce more information and communications technology goods. Its factories need to become major producers of more advanced goods. China's laborers will play a huge part in this necessary transformation.

The opportunities some colleges and universities are providing migrant workers will help develop the required skills. More important, highly competent farmers-turned-workers will sharpen the country's industrial competitiveness.

(China Daily 09/27/2011 page8)