graduate glut grows
By Antoaneta Bezlova
Feng Danya studied foreign languages. She had hoped to be part of a growing
local company and grow with them, she said. But her timing was wrong. She
graduated in the summer of uncertainty for the global economy and many Chinese
"I now work in an Italian deli shop, selling meat and
cheese," she said. "I'm trying to keep my English up with the foreigners who
come to shop here from time to time. I tried many other places where I could at
least use my degree, but nothing came through."
Feng is at least
employed. With a monthly salary of 1,400 yuan (US$205) and accommodation shared
with her parents, she can continue to look for something better while earning a
modest living. But many of her university friends are still without jobs,
scouring job fairs and talent recruitment centers.
An explosive report
released by the Chinese Academy of Social
Sciences (CASS) in September said earnings of
graduates were now at par and even lower than those of migrant laborers. The
news came as a blow to many high-aspiring parents and youngsters in a country
that has for centuries prided itself on cultivating elite Confucian
"What is the point of putting so much effort and time
into getting a university degree if at the end all you get is the salary of a
migrant worker?" said Wang Lefu, who studied business management. "One needn't
have bothered with exams and all the bureaucracy."
Unable to find a job
to his liking, Wang is now applying to continue his studies abroad. His parents
run their own business and can support his studies in Britain or Australia.
"There the education should count for something," Wang said, adding he hopes to
land a job that can take him back to China on a foreign salary. "In a year's
time the economic crisis should be over and jobs will be easier to get."
But for China the global economic crisis has exacerbated a serious
unemployment crisis that has been many years in the making and that few believe
will disappear with the first signs of global recovery.
unemployment rate stands at about 4%. Yet a large group of laborers - the
communist state's 150 million migrant laborers or floating population, as they
are sometimes termed here - is not taken into account when unemployment figures
When the global financial crisis hit last year -
diminishing trade flows and reducing manufacturing orders for China's factories
to a dribble - some 20 million migrants were estimated to have lost their jobs
and returned home.
The pressure of resolving unemployment tension in the
countryside this year has been made even more difficult for Beijing by its
difficulties in finding jobs for the country's surging numbers of university
Some 6.1 million graduates entered the job market this
summer, 540,000 more than last year. In 2008 the employment rate for graduates
was less than 70%. This year nearly two million of graduates, many of them
postgraduate diploma holders, are expected to be left without job placements.
Students from Guangdong province, China's wealthiest region, are so
desperate for work that they have been applying for jobs as nannies - and
getting rejected, a local paper reported earlier this year. Well-off employers
are said to prefer peasant girls with experience instead of English-speaking
graduates in business administration.
In its "Green Book of Population
and Labor 2009" published last month, the CASS said the lack of trained and
skilled workers as opposed to the surging numbers of graduates has led to the
emergence of an abnormal trend where graduates are paid the same or even less
than migrant laborers.
Beijing, where Feng gets her monthly income of
1,400 yuan, is one of the costliest cities in China. But the report found that
migrant laborers in southern China's manufacturing belt could earn up to 1,500
yuan per month.
"It is definitely a trend," said Cai Fang, fellow at the
Research Institute of Population and Labor Economics at CASS. "On one hand it
illustrates how our labor market has become more integrated, but on the other
hand it tells a worrying story about how fierce the competition for employment
College graduates are frustrated, but so are their parents.
Many of them have invested their life savings in obtaining a university degree
for their single children. Not surprisingly, many of them blame the government
for putting an emphasis on higher education as a prerequisite for young people
to prosper in the 21st century China but failing to provide jobs.
oversupply of college graduates started in 1999 when Chinese leaders decided to
counter some of the effects of the Asian financial crisis by boosting university
enrollments. They had hoped that a generation of well-heeled educated urbanites
would boost domestic consumption and help reduce China's dependence on exports.
Enrollment rose quickly, from 3% of college-age students in the 1980s to
20% today. The trend coincided with a very public effort by Beijing to begin a
process of retooling its manufacture-driven economy into a high-knowledge
But even when the economy was booming and creating more jobs,
Beijing was struggling to find employment for its growing number of diploma
holders. Many Chinese graduates major in computer sciences, law and accounting,
but the real demand was to fill specific technical fields.
financial crisis, with its hiring freezes and credit crunch that choked
enterprises' expansion, made a bad situation only worse. At the beginning of
this year Beijing issued a call to all levels of government to combat
unemployment, particularly among new graduates. This year marks the 20th
anniversary of Tiananmen pro-democracy student demonstrations, and Chinese
leaders feared graduates' job concerns might snowball into social unrest.
Even as the global economy shows signs of recovery and Chinese
economists speak of "exit" strategies from the crisis, the unemployment
situation remains grim.
"University graduates and migrant workers are
among the groups that have been most severely affected by the crisis," Yi
Weimin, Human Resources and Social Security Minister, admitted at a conference
specially convened last month to mitigate the news of the CASS report.
It is high time that young diploma holders lowered their expectations
and began to see the potential of many once neglected but well-paid jobs, he
told the media. "As a result of the crisis, there will be a change in values for
our graduates," Yi said.
In its latest move to ease graduate
unemployment amid the downturn, Beijing has ordered the People's Liberation Army
(PLA) to change its recruitment standards to attract more female graduate
A statement issued by the conscription office of the Ministry
of National Defense last week indicated that from now on the PLA is going to
judge its women recruit candidates on their eloquence, artistic skills and
appearance - a sweeping change from previous recruitment standards that
emphasized age and height.
(This feature was produced by IPS
Asia-Pacific under a series on the impact of the global economic crisis on
children and young people, in partnership with the United Nations Children's
Fund - East Asia and the Pacific Regional Office.)
(Inter Press Service)