Individuals' perceptions of lifelong learning and the labour market competition: a case study in Shanghai, China

  • Qi Wang

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


This study aims at understanding how individuals in Shanghai engage in labour market competition and lifelong learning in a newly marketised and competitive context. It probes the individuals’ participation in ‘the Training Programme for Talents in Shortage’ (STTP), their perceptions of the value of lifelong learning and their experience in competing for employment. It takes the position that rather than focusing only on policy-makers’ views, an understanding of people’s perceptions and participation in this programme can provide a proper basis for the formulation and the evaluation of the policy on a learning society (Gerard and Rees, 2002). STTP is a localized education and training programme in the post-compulsory sector, providing qualifications with largely local value. It has been developed and implemented by the Shanghai Municipal Government since 1993 as a means to enhance the city’s stock of human capital and to promote the development of a ‘learning society’. On the one hand, STTP is inspired and designed by straightforward human capital development concerns and has been implemented through a decentralized, semimarketised approach, to maintain the momentum of the city’s development by targeting key skills shortages. On the other hand, significant socio-economic changes, such as the emergence of a labour market, lead individuals to take on full personal responsibility for their own social position and to compete against each other. People seek to obtain all sorts of advantages to manage and construct their employability; this study investigates the role of STTP and its qualifications in building individuals’ portfolio of skills, qualifications and other aspects of their individual human capital. The thesis draws on two sets of literature: that on lifelong learning and employability, and that on sociological theories of engagement with and participation in lifelong learning, notably rational choice theory and theories of positional competition. Both quantitative and qualitative methods of data gathering and analysis were applied. A questionnaire was administrated to 279 course participants; and interviews were conducted with 11 course participants, 4 non-participants and 4 course deliverers and policy-makers. Both instruments explored perceptions and experiences of the labour market, reasons for participating (or not) in STTP, their views on lifelong learning and the relationship between STTP, lifelong learning and the labour market. The finding suggests that a full understanding of individuals’ work and learning involves an analysis of a complex of relational interdependence between socially and culturally derived factors and personally subjective views of whom they are. In addition, the finding suggests that certain aspects of STTP, coupled with existing perceptions of formal education in Shanghai on the one hand and various interpretations of the needs of the labour market on the other, may be acting to challenge the original intentions of the programme, especially in terms of building a learning society.
Date of Award1 Aug 2008
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorJohn Lowe (Supervisor)


  • learning identity
  • lifelong learning
  • employability

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