Test of mettle for million seeking an iron rice bowl

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 28 November, 2011, 12:00am


Almost a million people sat the civil service entry examination yesterday, down slightly from last year's record figure but still a clear demonstration of the draw of the 'iron rice bowl'.

The 970,000-odd hopefuls sitting the tests nationwide were vying for fewer than 18,000 government posts - about a one-in-53 chance of success. And competition was even more fierce for the most popular positions, with state media reporting that some were oversubscribed by a ratio of more than 4,000-to-one.

However, as there are about 2,650 more vacancies on offer this year, the chances of candidates gaining a post have improved. Last year's over-subscription ratio - when 1.03 million people were competing for 15,290 posts - was almost 64-to-one.

Nie Shengkui, a senior exam official with the State Administration of Civil Service, told Xinhua the 60,000 drop in test-takers this year was a sign of a decline in 'civil service fever'.

'The reason for this phenomenon's appearance is largely due to changes in exam policy,' Nie said. 'This year, apart from some special positions, all jobs with central organs and provincial-level agencies required people with a minimum of two years' job experience.'

The 6 per cent fall in the number of people sitting the exams - used to filter applicants to government agencies prior to interviews - came after a decade in which candidates had increased astronomically.

This year's figure was almost 18 times the 55,800 who took the test in 2001, a year when the government had 4,800 vacancies.

Applicant numbers rose almost exponentially from then onwards, reaching 500,000 in 2005.

Professor Xiong Bingqi, from the 21st Century Education Research Institute at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, said that the dramatic increase was largely due to the huge growth in the numbers of university graduates over the same period.

'University graduate employment opportunities is an issue that has become a major concern for society in recent times,' Xiong said. 'This year there were more than 7 million graduates from universities. The number of graduates was only around 1 million about 10 years ago.'

Xiong said government jobs were a 'very attractive' option, despite the stiff competition.

'[The] civil service is seen as paying good wages and providing greater job security than the private sector, and there is a clearly-defined admissions process, so that is why you see an average of 53 people applying for each post this year,' he said. 'There are even greater numbers trying to get into state-owned enterprises, and their vacancies have much higher ratios, but it is less obvious because they do not have an integrated applications mechanism.'

Despite the exams' high take-up rate, the system has a poor reputation for cheating and being unfair.

A survey carried out for a recruitment website run by Baidu.com found that about 35 per cent of respondents believed the system was unfair, compared with just 20 per cent who thought it was fair,

The State Administration of Civil Service reaffirmed its commitment to stamping out cheating yesterday afternoon.

'Regardless of whether the questions are difficult or not, or whether the number of people is large, cheating behaviour will certainly be severely dealt with,' the organisation stated on its Sina Weibo microblog.