This year China produced its largest-ever graduating class of 6.6 million students. They are now faced with the task of finding a job amid an economy struggling to absorb so many workers in such a short period of time.
Government paints rosy statistics
A study this year by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), which is government-run, stated that only 6.7 percent of last year’s graduates were still looking for work 6 months after graduation. Wang Meiyan, professor at the Institute of Population and Labour Economics at CASS, said that Chinese graduates are generally happy and finding jobs.
“Their employment challenges aren’t as serious as society thinks. Any difficulties that graduates are facing in China’s job market doesn’t mean that the problem is unique to China,” said Meiyan.
Ren Xinghui, a researcher independent Beijing think tank Transition Institute, was skeptical of these statistics, saying that there is an incentive to over-report employment rates since it reflects directly on the school’s performance.
Ren Xinghui also commented on the importance of finding work that matches the quality of education. “If it just means having work, that is certainly available. But if we are talking about the opportunity in the sense of it matching training and room for professional development, then there is a problem,” he said.
Small pay gap for graduates
Traditionally education was a privilege saved for the cultural and social elite, and then attacked as one of the monoliths of cultural privilege and inequality during China’s Cultural Revolution.
The expansion of availability of education today has sparked the question in many people’s minds about the value of education. The type of work readily available for graduates pays similarly to the work of China’s other 80% who have not finished secondary school, often without health insurance or other benefits.
The disappointment in jobs, wages, and opportunities hits particularly hard for China, as the message of Chinese economic growth has inflated the hopes of young professionals.
There are also fears that this massive graduating class, all searching for work, can lead to political unrest on top of the economic problems that widespread unemployment brings. Modern Chinese history is interspersed with student-led protests, the most famous being the 1989 anti-government demonstrations in Tiananmen Square.