Without jobs growth, China will break education’s promise


Penn State University

Xin Sun, 24, is taking the route his parents always wanted for him.

Work hard, study, get a job.

Attending Nanjing University, he graduated with a degree in management information systems.

On paper, he was on the fast track to success.

Fast-forward to March 2013. Xin is jobless and starting to become hopeless, he said.

Xin dedicated four years of his life to studying for a job market that doesn’t really exist in China – at least not yet.

College students across the globe are facing a saturated job market without enough jobs to satisfy the growth.

And China, which often has been seen as a powerhouse for employment, is no exception. The problem in China, though, is especially acute for college graduates – which seems to defy conventional wisdom that more education means better job prospects.

“I think students feel like they’re working toward this dream – much like the American dream – of going to school, getting a good job and making a good life,” Xin said. “We’ve seen agriculture and factories in our country, which we still need, but there has to be more industry to account for these students graduating. There has to be more jobs that use our degree.”

China is regarded as an economy with an enormous manufacturing sector fed by an endless supply of cheap labor. But those jobs have little attraction for the country’s growing number of college graduates like Xin.

Chinese governmental leaders have set a goal of 195 million college graduates by the end of 2020.

From 1998 to 2011, the enrollment rate in college has gone from 8 percent to 27 percent, causing a large development in education and an increase in students very quickly, according to Ding Yan, a professor at Fudan University in Shanghai.

“Fifteen years ago, only four or five of every 100 people would be a university student,” Ding said. “Now it’s 30 and increasing.”

Ding believes the growth is too quick, and China is going to face major problems absorbing the spike in graduates.

Jobs in farming and factories are plentiful – and, for now, there are enough people to fill them. Migrant workers who perform these menial labor jobs, Ding said, are still available within China’s workforce.

“There are not as many options in rural areas to receive a college education, so China still has enough workers to remain in this manufacturing, low-skilled industry,” Ding said. “But it might not stay like that for long.”

The increased premium on a college education for Chinese young people could chip away at the number of people willing to take factory or farming jobs, Ding added. Instead, there will be a growing number of college graduates competing for relatively few jobs, mostly in technology and business.

Xiong Qingnian, a Fudan professor and director of the Research Institute for Higher Education, said universities could help ease the demand by diversifying their programs.

“Intertwined into the more common majors like business and economics, there should be more vocational and technical skills being taught at the university level,” Xiong said.

“We need more students across this spectrum of jobs. They are finding the job industry hard to break into right now because they are only looking for one type of job,” he said. “They are only studying for one type of skill. There needs to be a mix.”

Fudan University’s Ding said Chinese students need to be realistic, because not everyone can secure technology-based jobs.

For instance, just 10 percent of college graduates who studied engineering are actually getting a job in engineering.

“Assembly and production lines are still extremely important,” Ding said. “We rely on such low-skilled industry. And without it, if students continue to choose unemployment until a higher paying job comes, China has no future. This is why the Chinese government needs to promote all industries.”

Some graduates are taking matters into their own hands – creating opportunities for themselves in non-traditional ways.

Ding said he heard a story of a student who graduated from Peking University, one of China’s elite universities, who opened up a meat-selling business.

This is unusual, Ding said.

But entrepreneurship may become more common, because it offers opportunities to students who are facing unemployment, Ding said.

Meanwhile, college students who have followed a path that promised a better life are struggling.

Hu Zhen Hao, on the cusp of earning his accounting degree, is one of them.

Having initially started at a technical school, Hu was then accepted to the Shanghai University of Finance and Economics.

Every week since January, he has attended various job expos in search of something that would make him an employed college grad.

And every week, he’s heard nothing back.

As much as he’d like to avoid a low-wage job, he thinks he might be forced into one.

“We don’t have the jobs in China right now to keep up with the university graduates. Things might be made in China, but they’re not created in China, so we’re only seeing a small profit and a small spectrum of jobs.” Hu said. “We don’t have the jobs here that we’re studying for. And that’s why there needs to be a change.”

Greene reported this story from Shanghai for a class in international journalism.

Read more World Wires stories from the Miami Herald

Friends surround Melquin Merchan, an 18-year-old painter from Aracataca, as he paints a portrait of Gabriel Garcia Marquez in front of the house where the Nobel laureate was born in Aracataca, Colombia, Friday, April 18, 2014. Garcia Marquez died at the age of 87 in Mexico City on Thursday.

    Colombia hopes to share Garcia Marquez remains

    The final resting place for the ashes of Gabriel Garcia Marquez remains unclear. It could be Mexico where he lived for decades or his native Colombia. Perhaps even both.

FILE - In this file photo taken May 21, 2011, miners work at a legal mining concession in Huaypetue, Madre de Dios, Peru. Government efforts to halt illegal mining have mostly been futile. The miners already have been clashing with police while intermittently blocking traffic on the commercially vital interoceanic highway that links the Pacific coast with Brazil. But officials insist this time they’re serious about combatting the multi-billion-dollar illegal mining trade that accounts for about 20 percent of Peru’s gold exports.

    Deadline lapses in Peru for illegal gold miners

    The clock has run out for an estimated 40,000 illegal gold miners who had until Saturday to legalize their status in a region of southeastern Peru where fortune-seekers have ravaged rainforests and contaminated rivers. The government's vow to enforce a ban on illegal mining is raising fears of bloody confrontations.

Damaged buses are seen at the scene of an explosion at a bus park in Abuja, Nigeria, Monday, April. 14, 2014. Suspected Islamic militants struck at the heart of Nigeria with a massive rush-hour explosion at a bus station Monday that killed 71, with the toll expected to rise in the deadliest attack yet on the nation’s capital.

    Islamic militants claim this week's Nigeria blast

    Islamic extremists Saturday claimed responsibility for the massive rush-hour explosion earlier this week that ripped through a busy bus station in Nigeria's capital, Abuja, killing at least 75 people and wounding 141.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category