From where I sit - China tackles graduates' gloom

April 16, 2009

With an unprecedented 6.1 million college graduates due to enter the job market this year, employment is at the top of the Chinese Government's agenda.

In recent sessions of the National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Committee, employment was listed as the number-one priority.

Wen Jiabao, Premier of China, has made it clear that the Government realises how serious the challenge is, and has earmarked 42 billion yuan (£4.18 billion) to tackle the problem, acknowledging that "employment is a matter of livelihood and dignity".

In a press conference at the end of last year, Chen Guangjin, professor at China's Social Science Academy, stated that for the 5.59 million college students who graduated in 2008, the unemployment rate was above 12 per cent - about three times the official national figure.

And Liu Erduo, deputy dean of the School of Labour and Human Resources, People's University, predicted that China's economy would hit bottom this summer, just as graduates enter the jobs market, which would make the situation even worse.

The Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security and nine other ministries have adopted fresh policies since the end of 2008 to tackle this worrying issue.

For example, incentives are being introduced for college graduates to join the Army or to work or teach in China's western regions and poorer areas for a certain number of years after graduation. In return, graduates are being offered reimbursement of tuition fees and student loans, or a grades discount when applying to join masters programmes.

Students are also being encouraged to start their own businesses after graduation, and loans of 50,000 yuan are available to those who lack start-up capital.

The Ministry of Education has also decided to organise 1 million college students to participate in various internship programmes over the next three years, and to expand the number of places for double-bachelors and science and engineering masters students by 50,000 this year, including masters of business administration and public administration.

Although some of these policies are considered to be helpful, others are highly controversial. Professor Liu for one is not in favour of the policy to increase the number of masters students.

"That only serves as an expedient measure, but the problem is not really solved," he said. "The employment pressure is shifted to the near future, and that could make it tougher for masters students when they graduate."

Under the plans for MBA enrolment, the requirement that applicants have three to five years of work experience has been abandoned this year.

Li Yiheng, research fellow at the Public Economy Academy, Peking University, expressed his concerns in an interview with the Information Times newspaper. He warned that if the policy were applied, there would be a sharp increase in student numbers and the MBA gold standard would be debased.

"The employment pressure would be more severe, not relieved," he added.

One online comment doing the rounds in Chinese universities sums up the mood.

It says: "You become a bachelor. Then a master. Then a PhD. Finally you end up with the degree of a martyr."

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