Fewer try for college as career fears grow
University degrees are losing allure on the mainland because of graduates' gloomy job prospects. The number of college applicants in some regions has dropped significantly.
The Ministry of Education earlier estimated that the number of college applicants would remain above 10 million this year - roughly the same as last year.
But quoting official statistics, China Youth Daily reported yesterday that more than half of 31 regions on the mainland had seen a drop in university applications this year.
In Shandong province, known for fierce competition for college places for decades, the number of applicants dropped by 10 per cent to around 700,000.
In Shanghai, the number of applicants this year is only 83,000, down 20 per cent.
The sharp drop in college applications is alarming because a university degree has long been regarded as a ticket to a good career and better life.
The mainland's college entrance exam in the summer has become a spectacular annual ritual as millions of students struggle for a good score, which they believe could make or break their futures.
The hitherto insatiable demand for a college degree has also forced mainland universities to go on reckless expansion sprees, often at the expense of quality teaching.
Official statistics show a record 10.5 million high school graduates registered for the national college entrance exam last year.
Xiong Bingqi , a professor at Shanghai Jiaotong University, said the significant drop in the number of students applying for universities in some regions was largely a result of demographic change, meaning there were fewer high school graduates, and because of curbs on students from previous years resitting exams to increase their chances of entering a more privileged college or any college at all.
However, Professor Xiong said less promising job prospects for college graduates had contributed to the decline in the number of college applications in some areas, a cause of concern for educators.
He added that students should be given more career choices, to either go to college or find a job without a degree, otherwise students would increasingly disregard schooling.
'Sending students to college has been the utmost goal of the mainland's school system,' he said. 'If they learn they can't find a job, even with a college degree, few would choose to enter college or even bother to finish high school.'
Yuan Zheng , a professor at South China Normal University, said he shared Professor Xiong's assessment of the situation.
However, Professor Yuan said that the public should not be left with the impression that the job woes for university graduates were the result of the expansion of universities since the late 1990s. In fact, he said, the ratio of college students to the general public on the mainland was still low compared with that in many western countries.
Professor Yuan said the authorities had to address the unequal distribution of resources between the eastern seaboard and western regions, and between metropolises like Beijing and cities in less developed regions, in order to create more jobs for university graduates.
He said the mainland's labour-intensive economy, which favoured low-skilled workers, needed an overhaul to accommodate more college graduates.