Chinese students prioritise job prospects when choosing degree

Fluctuations in gaokao admission scores indicate growing pursuit of career stability

August 20, 2022
Hong Kong – April 26, 2020 Tsim Sha Tsui was once a popular shopping area among tourists and is being hard hit by the pandemic
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Chinese students are placing increased emphasis on the job prospects attached to their choice of university and major as the country’s economy wobbles.

As this year’s domestic enrolment season closes, media attention has focused on the popularity of teaching-oriented majors and normal universities – institutions focused on pedagogical subjects and careers in education. In Guangdong, Hebei and Shandong provinces, the lowest admission scores for these majors have increased compared with last year.

Other majors growing in popularity in recent years include medicine and public security. According to Baidu, China’s search engine giant, clinical medicine remained in the five most searched majors two years in a row. Meanwhile, admission scores for some vocational colleges specialising in police training at Sichuan, Anhui and Shanxi provinces have also risen noticeably.

“When economic growth slows down, it hits various sectors differently,” Wu Keming, a professor in the School of Educational Science at Hunan Normal University told Times Higher Education. “The advantage of stability stands out in a depressing job market, which is the most importance cause for the popularity of teacher-oriented institutions or majors.”

Professor Wu also pointed out that consistent policy support has given the sector incentives. A targeted teacher training scheme launched by China’s Ministry of Education, aiming at preparing 10,000 teachers for underdeveloped regions of western China per year from 2021, is believed to be one of the driving forces behind the trend. Students enrolled in this plan will be eligible for free tuition and accommodation, along with a living allowance. In Sichuan province, the highest score admitted by this scheme in science is 673 (out of 750), which is the third in pre-enrolment following that of Peking and Tsinghua universities.

Students’ decision-making is reported to have been shaped by judgement on market changes, too. The admission score for civil engineering has dropped at many institutions, with the same trend for foreign languages, which are thought to be the result of the recession in the domestic real-estate market and construction industry, as well as the disruption faced by international trade as a result of the pandemic.

When looking for a university place, priorities of students and their parents have changed over time. China Youth Daily has been tracking potential university students’ decision-making after the gaokao with an annual survey: in 2022, 57 per cent of participants weighed future career prospects as the most important factor, which is higher than university reputation (52.8 per cent). Last year, university rankings and reputation topped the chart (65.3 per cent) and less consideration was placed on career prospects (56.2 per cent).

Students’ attitudes towards academic majors have changed as well, with the majority of participants (91.3 per cent) hoping they could benefit from the major they choose throughout their lives, but back in 2013, only 13.6 per cent of surveyed students said they knew about the major they picked; whereas 67.9 per cent students admitted they were “blind” when choosing their academic majors.

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