It is not a good time to be graduating from university in China. According to a recent survey conducted in 11 major cities by the Social Survey Institute of China, only 35% of those who graduated from universities last year are currently employed.
In the midst of this grim situation, one university in Beijing caused a furor recently over its attempt to inflate its graduates’ employment rate.
The North College of Beijing University of Chemical Technology — quite a reputable school — reportedly requested all the parents of students who will graduate this year to sign a so-called ‘letter of commitment’ in which they promised to find jobs for their own children by utilizing their ‘guanxi,’ or personal connections.
Some students from this university complained on the Internet that students whose parents failed to submit this letter would not receive their diplomas, and that the school would count those whose parents signed the document as ’employed.’
This approach to the unemployment problem naturally aroused a good deal of anger and criticism, despite the school’s assertion that it only intended to help the graduates find jobs.
Not long ago, a university diploma in China was a sure ticket to a stable government job with guaranteed benefits. But as the numbers of graduates have grown, the number of available positions has shrunk. And schools no longer assign jobs as they did up until the early 1990s.
When the state in 1993 started asking graduates to find their own jobs, the policy was for universities to make job information available to all students. Even so, those with parents or relatives in high positions had an easier time landing good jobs.
Today, surveys show that nearly half of all graduates rely on their parents’ or relatives’ ‘connections’ in finding jobs. It is those without such connections that suffer.
Professor Xiong Bingqi, an expert on higher education in China from Shanghai’s Jiaotong University, said that the university in Beijing was shirking its responsibility to help its students find employment.
Xiong also blamed the school for publicly forging its employment rate. The school was obviously more concerned about this figure — which will help it increase enrollment and allow it to report its achievement to higher authorities — than whether or not its graduates are truly employed, he said.
China’s State Council declared that finding employment for university graduates was a matter of serious concern and one of the state’s most urgent tasks for this year.
More than 7 million graduates are expected to flood the job market in 2009, and their prospects are worse than ever in light of the ongoing global financial crisis.
At an executive meeting, the State Council came up with seven suggestions as to how to resolve this crisis. These included encouraging university graduates to dedicate themselves to grassroots work, such as teaching in rural areas; to work in private enterprises rather than government jobs; to start their own businesses, or to take up internships to gain experience.
Nevertheless, most students don’t appreciate these official ‘prescriptions.’ They have been brought up to expect more.
Most university graduates prefer to work in government jobs; second choice is in state-owned enterprises, institutes of scientific research or schools. Few are interested in private enterprises or in starting their own businesses, according to research by the Social Survey Institute of China. These tendencies — which are quite different from those in developed countries — show that job stability is the students’ top concern.
Besides, university tuition in China is expensive. It costs about RMB50,000 to 100,000(US$7,300 to $14,600) to complete four years of study.
This is a heavy burden for most ordinary Chinese families. Every year there are students who commit suicide because their families cannot afford their tuition for higher education. On the other hand, many university students have to deal with the debts their parents incur for their studies.
No wonder many Chinese responded in anger to a suggestion by Wen Yang, a member of the Standing Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference of Guangdong province. The media reported Wen’s statement that there was no harm in university graduates working as unlicensed itinerant vendors — an idea flatly rejected by most Chinese.
Most who responded to Wen’s remark on the Internet felt it would be a big waste if someone with a university education were forced to do such a menial, rough job. ‘Let his son go do such a job first!’ one angry citizen roared.
Unlicensed vendors often face crackdowns by so-called ‘city management staff,’ who supplement the police in maintaining civic order. This is one of the thousands of ‘social conflicts’ well known by Chinese people throughout the country.
Although there are some university graduates in China who are willing to take up humble jobs such as domestic workers or salespeople, the propriety of this is hotly debated among the Chinese public. There are even graduates willing to work without pay if their employers can provide meals and accommodations.
UPI Asia reported a key reason there are no jobs for China’s educated youth is that the country’s economic boom has been based on manufacturing, with little growth in knowledge-based service industries. As a result there are few white-collar jobs outside the government sector.
Adjustments are needed in both the country’s economic structure and the people’s mindset if China is to advance to the status of a fully developed country. Perhaps the young graduates, faced with few alternatives, will be instrumental in bringing about such changes.