Panel Paper: The Impacts of Introducing Accountability: Evidence from a Randomized Field Trial in Vocational Schools in China

Monday, June 13, 2016 : 9:45 AM
Clement House, 3rd Floor, Room 02 (London School of Economics)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Prashant Loyalka, Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, Stanford University
Policymakers in an increasing number of developing countries have turned toward vocational education and training (VET) to educate and prepare students (Ministry of National Education of Indonesia, 2006; Government of Vietnam, 2009; Council for Technical Education and Vocational Training of Nepal, 2014). Unfortunately recent studies have demonstrated that students in VET schools make few, if any, absolute gains in academic, vocational, or non-cognitive skills and abilities (Chen, 2009; Loyalka et al., 2015). Recent studies from China further show that major government initiatives to increase school resources per student or provide certifications for VET teachers have no positive impact on student outcomes (Li et al, 2015; Johnston et al, 2015).

Although providing greater school inputs (expenditures or more highly trained teachers) has no discernible impact on student outcomes, it is possible that increasing the accountability of VET schools may have a positive impact. VET schools in developing countries are, in contrast to academic schools, characterized by an almost complete lack of accountability. Whether imposing an accountability system on VET schools can indeed improve student outcomes is, however, an empirical question.

The purpose of this study is to evaluate whether introducing an accountability system for vocational schools can improve student outcomes. Specifically, we seek to examine whether introducing such a system improves (a) students’ vocational skills; (b) students’ academic skills; (c) students’ non-cognitive abilities; (d) student graduation rates (as opposed to dropout rates), (e) the quality of students’ internship experiences. We not only seek to examine whether introducing an accountability system improves student outcomes but how/why and for what types of students.

To evaluate the impact of introducing the accountability system (the intervention), we take China as a case study. Specifically, we conduct a randomized experiment involving 118 vocational high schools and over 13,000 students in seven large prefecture-cities in one inland province. The intervention held schools accountable for improving students’ academic and vocational skills, reducing dropout, and meeting government and industry standards for internships. The intervention was backed by rewards from the provincial bureau of education and the Electronics Industry Citizenship Coalition (which represents essentially all major electronics industry firms in the world).

Our results show that introducing the accountability system had a positive impact on a number of student outcomes. Vocational skills improved by approximately 0.2 SDs. Academic skills improved by approximately 0.15 SDs. Dropouts were reduced by 4 percentage points (or approximately 15%). Based on the results of the evaluation, it appears that introducing an assessment and accountability system into the vocational school system in China can improve a broad set of student outcomes. Although we are eager to see whether the impacts continue into year 2, it should be noted that this is the first positive result for any VET policy/program evaluated in China thus far. The results therefore have major implications for policymakers and industry partners in China.