Amid China boom, job search for many grads goes bust

Sep 13, 2011, 7:15 p.m.
Students attend their college graduation ceremony in Shanghai's Fudan University July 2, 2011. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

That's a universal predicament. But in China, where heady growth has nourished equally heady hopes, the gap between aspirations and grinding reality hurts all the more.

"Finding a job is not a problem, at least not in a city like Beijing," said film animation major Feng Biao, sitting on the bed in his cramped Shigezhuang apartment. "The problem for most people is finding a job that suits you, that you actually like."

He has stacked apples and bananas on a table under a small hanging shaving mirror. Aside from that, the walls are bare.

It is a one-and-a-half hour one-way subway commute to his office in central Beijing, where he earns about 3,000 yuan ($470) a month designing pop-up Internet advertisements.

Once accessible only to the social elite, China's higher education system has absorbed millions of students since 1977 when universities enrolled only 220,000 students following the turmoil of the Cultural Revolution.

Many of the parents of today's graduates came of age during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), when Mao Zedong launched a tumultuous campaign to attack bastions of privilege -- including education -- and the number of students allowed into university was drastically curtailed. Throughout that era, the state allocated jobs to urban workers.

Today's education expansion has spawned a new crisis of confidence in the value of higher learning, with starting salaries for graduates often not much higher than those of migrant workers in factories.

Even if they are in a position to receive a full-time wage, they often do not get health insurance or other social benefits.

For the government, the prospect of widespread under-employment is a political worry, as well as an economic one.

China's modern history is punctuated with student-led protests and the government has been alert to the possibility of student unrest ever since anti-government demonstrations crushed by the military in and around Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989.

"China's employment market is absolutely not healthy. There is a limited demand for white-collar workers that makes it difficult for graduates to find work. One reason for that is the large-scale expansion of universities," said Ren, the researcher.

Nationwide, university graduates of four-year and vocational programs had average monthly salaries of just under 2,500 yuan a month in 2010 including benefits, according to the CASS study.

Feng pays out 20 percent of his salary for his one-bedroom apartment, the floor dotted with cigarette butts. After food, transport, and the occasional treat, he says he saves nothing.

"I guess having just graduated I should have expected to be broke," Feng said.


Not all graduates' circumstances are as strained as Feng's. Those with the connections to secure jobs at big firms or in government can do relatively well.

Lei Siyu, who graduated from the Dalian University of Technology in the spring with a degree in software engineering, beat the gauntlet.

The skinny Sichuan native said he was frustrated when his first round of graduate school applications were all rejected and he wasn't hired for a job at China's Internet giant, Baidu.

Editor's Picks

Most Recent