China’s pressure on graduate employment ‘fuelling cheating’

Beijing should ease off on top-down pressure and extend its window for reporting graduates' job status, academics say

June 16, 2022
Cui Peng of Shandong Luneng Taishan FC complain to referee after got a red card to illustrate China’s pressure on graduate employment ‘fuelling cheating’
Source: Getty

China's laser focus on graduate employment has driven the “fraudulent behaviour” among universities that it is now clamping down on, according to scholars.

Across China, where extreme competition and record high graduation rates have fuelled cutthroat competition for jobs, institutions are under high pressure to find their students work. Each year, Chinese universities must submit figures to the government reporting their graduates’ employment rate.

But the top-down push by Beijing along with a weak job market is encouraging cheating by students and institutions, academics said.

This month, cheating led Chinese officials to issue a warning to institutions. “Colleges and universities in all regions should strictly implement the…disciplinary requirements, and are not allowed to force or induce graduates to sign employment agreements and labour contracts in any way,” the Ministry of Education said.

The message came amid reports by the Chinese news service Caixin that some institutions were supposedly withholding diplomas from their graduates until they got jobs.

Neal Chen, assistant professor in China studies at Akita International University, faulted Beijing for putting too heavy an emphasis on students finding immediate employment upon graduation.

“Insisting on this point is quite counterproductive,” he said, noting that the pressure pushes both students and their universities to cheat.  

“Empirically, many graduates cannot work for their ideal companies in time, [so they] are forced to study for a higher degree when they cannot secure a job, or even just fake job employment contracts in their final year.”

While the pressure to find graduates jobs right out of university has grown worse in recent years, it is not new, said Dr Chen.

“This unwritten rule is quite common and has been there for many years,” he said, adding that Covid-19 has made things worse.

“Education institutions all want their figure of employment rate to look promising, so issuing diplomas to students who have secured a job only is one way to make the figure look better. Due to the pandemic and many countries economically decoupling lately from China, fewer jobs are available in the market, so more students’ diplomas are withheld.”

Dr Chen suggested Beijing’s current approach of warning institutions against dodgy behaviour was not doing much to help the situation.

“The Chinese government has been threatening to do so every year, and we have not seen this phenomenon occur any less,” he said.

James Chin, professor of Asian studies at the University of Tasmania, agreed that the tactic did not make sense, especially as China became a fully market-driven economy.

“The economy does not work that way,” he said. Professor Chin predicted the problem would only get worse and Beijing “will never be able to provide enough jobs or match the jobs” to university graduates.

“More and more institutions are required by central government to publish this data [and] more institutions [are] using this for branding and recruitment,” he said. “Lower ranked institutions have an incentive to cheat on data, so they will.”

Qiang Zha, an associate professor in the Faculty of Education at York University, said that many universities – especially provincial ones – were already doing what they could to help connect graduates to job opportunities.

“Such efforts should help to a certain extent, though they might be limited by the macroeconomic situation. The governments at the central and provincial levels might need to relax the pressure on the universities,” he said.

Dr Zha suggested that Beijing could help by lifting its strict requirements on universities “or at least expand the horizon for such requirements from reporting employment rate upon graduation to six months later or even longer”.

pola.lem@timeshighereducation.com

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