Chinese Graduates Scramble for Jobs Amid Calls for Educational Reform


2014-05-27
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china-female-college-grads-june-2013.jpg Female students pose for photos after their graduation ceremony on the outskirts of Beijing, June 26, 2013.
AFP

A record number of college graduates is putting growing pressure on young Chinese job-seekers at a time of slowing economic growth, prompting calls for reform of higher education.

This year, 7.27 million students will graduate from China's universities and technical colleges—the highest number so far—and begin a new long march for jobs through advertisements, interviews, and recruitment fairs.

Recent unemployment figures for recent graduates were recorded at 16 percent, while entry-level graduate salaries continue their downward slide.

And those looking for their first job will be competing on anything but a level playing field.

A study last year by the China Data Center at Beijing's prestigious Tsinghua University found that the children of officials were able to command starting salaries on graduation that were on average 15 percent higher than those of their classmates.

As a result, around 11 percent of young Chinese join the ruling Chinese Communist Party while still in college, compared with just one percent in 1990.

'Bankruptcy degrees'

But those who do find a job are increasingly finding their time at college did little to prepare them for the challenges of working life, according to Hu Xingdou, economics professor at the Beijing University of Science and Technology.

"Chinese universities need to reform the way in which they design their degree courses, because they are still based on the Soviet education system," Hu said.

"The specialisms are too narrow, and there is no all-round education like you get in Western countries."

Graduates who signed up for degrees at second-tier universities are beginning to realize that they may have wasted huge amounts of money on their studies, according to a recent report from the official China News Service.

Unemployed graduates have taken to social media sites in droves to express their disgust at "bankruptcy degrees," suggesting some serious problems with curriculum design in some of the newer colleges, it said.

"A lot of former technical and vocational colleges were upgraded to university status, which has ... led to the emergence of higher education as an industry," retired Shandong University professor Sun Wenguang told RFA.

But he said graduate unemployment exists alongside a labor shortage in the corporate world.

"This suggests that Chinese university degrees aren't fit for purpose," Sun said.

Hu, meanwhile, said part of the problem is the expectations Chinese college students have of life after graduation.

"Personally, I think the main issue is that university students want to stay in first-tier cities [like Beijing and Shanghai]," he said.

"They don't want to go and work in small and medium-sized private enterprises or [smaller] cities, because the compensation packages are lower," Hu said.

Diversification

The key lies in greater diversification of degree programs to include new specialisms targeting at the immediate needs of industry, experts said.

"Some people aren't suited to academic degrees, but they are creative, or are good at certain technical skills," Hu said.

"Chinese education should be more streamlined and tailored to the individual, to enable certain students to gain technical skills that are needed by society," he said.

"They shouldn't try to force everyone into the same mold; that of university bachelor's degree programs."

Faced with growing uncertainty about the future, Chinese university students are heading for the exits in ever greater numbers, experts say.

Chinese students currently represent the largest group of international students enrolled in U.S. universities, according to census figures, reaching a total of nearly 200,000 during the 2011-12 academic year.

According to the U.S.-based Institute of International Education, there are signs that more and more Chinese students are enrolling to take their first degrees, rather than study at the graduate level as was previously the norm.

There was a rise of more than 30 percent in the number of students from China enrolled as undergraduates in U.S. universities in 2011-2012, the institute said.

Hu said China should learn from Germany, where technicians are trained to a high standard in specialized colleges straight out of high school, without ever going to university.

"Their technical capabilities are very high, and they produce goods of world-leading quality," he said.

Reported by Gao Shan for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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