From where I sit - Lift off, in more ways than one

January 26, 2012

Financial reports in the media around the world take a remarkably similar approach, or so it seems from China. The slick graphics that daily illustrate the swings in fortune of the FTSE or Hang Seng index show our global economy in bleak terms as a sea of red percentages and downward-facing arrows.

But these sub-percentage trims lose some of their meaning when seen from within a vibrant economy such as China's, where demand for higher education (and its graduates) continues to grow.

The annual migration of workers to their home towns for the New Year celebrations has this year taken the transport system by surprise due to increased demand attributed to the greater number of students attending university. While the burden on the rail system has been reported with dismay, the coverage is tempered by pride in the belief that this good-humoured group of commuters represents the largest mass migration in global history.

The cultural industry has greater cause for pride: its annual contribution to China's gross domestic product now stands at 2.75 per cent. However, in an astonishing political announcement, Cai Wu, the minister for culture, signalled that the government expects the sector to contribute 5 per cent within four years.

The government's call for further growth of approximately $170 billion (£110 billion) by 2015, supported by 15 new investment funds, must represent the greatest economic encouragement ever given to the cultural industry of any country at any time in history.

How this will play out in higher education terms is unclear, but academics at some of China's best connected media schools know from their proximity to industry that their graduates are being snapped up ever more quickly by employers.

Dedicated staff have devised innovative joint-venture models between the education and the cultural industries, models that have gained the backing of ministers. Some of the results are extraordinary: for example, students at Chongqing Technology and Business University work on, and are credited with producing, live programming broadcast on the national CQTV network.

A few days ago, my journey from the 19th floor to the lobby of the Marriott Hotel in Chongqing led to me being crammed in a lift with 16 young and excited Chinese candidates who had just been interviewed for cabin-crew positions for a European airline. When the new and well-maintained lift decided it could no longer cope with the weight, we ground to a halt some way from the ground.

I counted 11 iPhone 4s come out of the pockets as the people began blogging, emailing or texting friends to get help: in some cases they appeared to have a good time broadcasting our collective misfortune.

The lift may have been stuck physically in one hotel in industrial China, but the media content produced in the 20 minutes or so until our rescue will no doubt have been consumed across a vast cultural landscape ever since.

So if you see on the internet images of a slightly bemused, middle-aged British professor in a lift full of the bright hopefulness of modern China, do let me know as I'd love to study how this media product was distributed and consumed. Such phenomena will only grow in this country in the coming years.

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