NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 24, 2006

Countries thrive on pools of bright, young job seekers just out of college who are driven by the need to find work. But in China, where the leadership is still scarred by the memory of Tiananmen Square, too many graduates with time on their hands is the last thing the Communist Party wants, says the Wall Street Journal.

Following the massive expansion in the number of university places in recent years, 2.5 million Chinese graduates will struggle to find jobs this summer, and this risks fracturing the implicit understanding that as long as students steer clear of politics, they can enjoy a good life -- starting with a job on graduation, says the Journal:

  • Alarmed by the specter of unemployed graduates taking to the streets, the government has imposed tight limits on the number of students Chinese colleges can enroll.
  • Admissions will now be allowed to increase only in line with economic growth -- which means by around 8 percent annually.
  • This follows a four-fold increase in student enrollments since 1998, as new institutions of higher education sprung up to cope with the increased demand triggered by rising prosperity,

But Beijing's move does nothing to address the real problem, which is not the quantity of graduates but their quality, says the Journal:

  • Fewer than 10 percent of Chinese graduates in professions such as engineering and accounting have the skills needed to work in a foreign company.
  • In addition to often low English standards, the Chinese educational system emphasizes rote learning far more than it encourages students to think for themselves.

So the Party is left with two choices: either risk unrest among jobless graduates or overhaul the education system to make students more employable -- at the price of encouraging them to question the Party's grip on power, says the Journal.

Source: Editorial, "Jobless Graduates," Wall Street Journal, May 19, 2006.

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