China / Education

Ministries to boost senior care programs

By Luo Wangshu, Wu Wei and Zhao Xinying (China Daily) Updated: 2015-04-28 07:18

Training for young professionals needed as the nation's elderly population increases

Ministries are encouraging higher education institutions to open more senior care programs as the elderly population increases.

The Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Civil Affairs have taken guidance on the development of senior care programs.

Civil Affairs Minister Li Liguo said in March that the ministry will cooperate with higher education institutions and open more senior-care-related programs to train more young professionals.

According to the ministry, nearly 300,000 people work in the senior care sector, but only 50,000 are licensed professionals.

The ministry says senior care programs are mainly provided at the higher vocational education level.

Sixty-three vocational colleges now have senior care programs nationwide, compared with just three colleges before 2004, according to Zou Wenkai, president of Beijing College of Social Administration.

Changsha Social Work College in Hunan province was one of the first higher vocational institutes in China to open senior care programs, launching them in 1999.

Huang Yansong, the college's medical school dean, has worked in senior care since 2003 and has witnessed the programs' development.

"Our graduates have become more and more popular in nursing homes. Each student usually has three to five job offers after graduating," Huang said.

"Before 2006, the majority of graduates worked in fields such as providing care. Due to the lack of professional development, there was a rapid turnover in employees. But we introduced a comprehensive curriculum based on market needs in 2006, integrating administrative, counseling and service courses.

"Graduates could aim for a higher level after gaining some experience in nursing homes," Huang said.

He has also experienced the rising prosperity of the senior care sector, saying, "There has been a world of difference compared with now and a decade ago."

China has 36 million senior citizens who need professional care. On the basis of one caregiver for every three senior citizens, the country needs some 10 million professional senior caregivers, according to the Ministry of Civil Affairs.

To cater for these increasing needs, Changsha Social Work College is looking to expand programs related to senior care service, including care management and administration, senior social work, senior rehabilitation, senior care service and senior psychological counseling.

The programs involve about 1,500 students and this is targeted to increase to 3,000 soon, according to Huang.

Senior care has long been viewed as a "humble" career in China, with long working hours and low pay leading to an exodus of caregivers.

Li Zhihui, 20, a student from the senior care administration program, recalled the first day of his internship, saying he felt embarrassed and awkward.

Working as a nurse, his job was to feed an elderly patient, accompany the patient to use the bathroom and to wash the patient.

"It was difficult to do the job at first," Li said, adding that he took some time to adjust.

"I was on the night shift the other day and a grandmother I was caring for saw that I was tired and took me to her home and fed me. My own grandmother treated me very well when I was a child, and I felt the same love that she gave me," Li said, adding that he plans to start a business after graduating.

In September 2013, the State Council issued a report on the development of the elderly care industry, showing that the over-60s accounted for 14.9 percent of the population - or 202 million - that year.

This figure will increase rapidly to reach 480 million in 2050, accounting for about 25 percent of the global total, the report said.

During the annual Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference session in March, Zhang Zhuohua, vice-president of Central South University in Changsha, called for improved nurturing of senior care professionals.

"In the next 10 to 20 years, China's elderly population will increase substantially. When the parents of only children enter their twilight years, a young couple is responsible for taking care of four elderly people. ... It is a challenge for every family, making senior care an essential problem to tackle," Zhang said.

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