The global financial crisis is having an impact on the world’s largest graduate student body, with work prospects looking increasingly bleak for recently qualified Chinese students.
In attempting to enter the workforce for the first time, Chinese graduates are having to contend with a slowing Chinese economy, hit first and foremost by a decline in the demand for manufactured goods. As factories have shut, the knock-on effects have been widespread. Private firms, long since the principal provider of jobs to China’s graduates, have been sorely affected. Professor Yue Changjun, an expert on education and economy at Peking University in Beijing, told China Youth Daily that 67,000 private Chinese companies closed in the first half of this year.
This difficult economic climate has given rise to a situation where first-time job seekers are having to hunt for jobs alongside growing numbers of unemployed, who are often more experienced than recent graduates.
Meanwhile, the job environment is rendered even more competitive by the numbers of students involved. Deputy Minister of Human Resources and Social Security, Zhang Xiaojian, pointed out that 6.1 million college and university students will graduate in the first half of next year. This vast influx will be added to by the four million or so graduates from previous years that have failed to find work.
China’s graduates have been forced to consider alternatives to the “traditional” fields of high finance and management consultancy. Government jobs, usually considered beneath most aspiring students, have been oversubscribed. Thus far in 2008, a total of 775,000 people have applied for a national examination to qualify as government servants, competing for only 13,500 jobs. This is the highest number of applicants since 1994,
Jin Zhenghao, a financial engineering major at Xiamen University in southeast China’s Fujian Province, has been desperately trying to find a job before graduating in June 2009. In an interview with the Xinhua News Agency, Jin said his university had given his classmates and himthe whole of November to market themselves to potential employers. Jin applied to nearly 30 companies, and went to five interviews. Jin has not yet received any job offers.
Though Jin remains positive, it was clear that any assumptions about the job market had to be re-thought. Salary expectations have had to be lowered, with Jin now hoping for around 5,000 Yuan a month, as opposed to the 7,000 he had previously anticipated. Moreover, Jin has decided to move to Shanghai, China’s financial hub, in order to be in the best position to take advantage of the slim pickings on offer.
The Chinese authorities, as part of their wider response to the economic crisis, have been attempting to address the problem of graduate employment. Eager to try and shore up wavering trust in the economy, job fairs and web advertising have been used extensively to highlight opportunities. It remains to be seen whether such efforts are successful. Government spokespersons have emphasised the impressive figures (259 jobs fairs, 30,000 enterprises involved, 500,000 jobs available), but critics have pointed to a considerable discrepancy between the statistics and reality.
In the short term, it seems that graduates like Jin Zhenghao will have to come to terms with more limited horizons. While the centres of Beijing and Shanghai will continue to attract much of China’s ambitious youth, the easier job market in less developed (and less fashionable) areas of China may provide a desirable alternative. Perhaps more importantly, the notion of a university education guaranteeing comfortable employment has been dented. Formerly, in a country of 1.3 billion, having a degree was thought a passport to the good life. But, in the inimitable way of the globalised world, sub-prime mortgages may have laid such an idea to rest.