From where I sit: China's media world is too small

September 18, 2008

China is becoming increasingly worried about the rising number of students taking journalism and communications courses when it is impossible for all the graduates to find work in a strictly controlled media job market.

The career prospects are bleak even for those who have studied at the School of Journalism at Shanghai's prestigious Fudan University, which pioneered the study of journalism in China as long ago as 1929 and is widely recognised as "the cradle of China's journalists". Of its 110 undergraduate students, only 22 eventually found a job in media companies in 2007 - a historical low. About half the students were forced to find work outside the media sector.

Fudan is not an isolated case. According to surveys by the Ministry of Education's Steering Committee for Journalism Education (SCJE), only about 30 per cent of graduates of Renmin University's equally well-regarded journalism and communications school in Beijing found work in the media.

Why are there so many graduates when there are so few jobs for them in the media? Most people put it down to the expansion of numbers entering higher education in general and the boom of journalism and communications programmes since the end of the 1990s.

In the 1980s, China had only seven programmes in journalism and communications, and at least 90 per cent of graduates from Fudan and Renmin found work in the media.

Between 1999 and 2006, however, China's universities and colleges dramatically increased the enrolment of undergraduate students - from 1.08 million to 5.05 million. Over the same period, the number of journalism and communications programmes skyrocketed from 88 to 661. In 2002 alone, 224 new courses were offered.

In 1999 there were only 9,000 students majoring in journalism and communications. By 2005, there were 120,000 media students and 30,000 graduates entering the job market.

In Shanghai, five new journalism and communications programmes were approved in 2004, and in 2007 there were 4,500 undergraduate students following 13 programmes of study.

Even though Shanghai has one of the densest concentrations of media in China, the number of journalism students churned out every year far exceeds the needs of the industry. A few years ago, Shanghai Media Group, which includes television and radio broadcasting, news-gathering and internet publishing, received more than 20,000 online job applications for fewer than 200 vacancies. The deluge of responses paralysed the company's computer network.

At a national level, only 180,000 reporters and editors were licensed by the Central Administration of Press and Publication of the People's Republic of China (CAPP) by the end of 2006. These journalists run some 2,200 newspapers, 8,000 magazines and 1,000 broadcasting stations.

In the next three to five years, the CAPP intends to control strictly the growth of the media industry while streamlining its structure and improving its efficiency. Consequently, there will be little if any need for a new generation of media professionals.

According to the SCJE, this problem needs to be addressed in two ways. On one hand, courses in journalism and communications must follow more rigorous standards of assessment; and on the other the choice of such programmes, together with their curriculum and teaching, should be better tailored to the job market that graduates will enter. Concentrating on key subjects such as media convergence and media management would better prepare students for a career.

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