In China, More College Grads Than Jobs

China is worried about unemployment. Recent college graduates are among the hardest hit. More Chinese are attending universities than ever, but now, there are more college graduates than jobs.

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Concerns about unemployment have now spread to China, and one of the groups hit hard is college graduates. More Chinese are attending universities than ever before, and there are now more college graduates than jobs. NPR'S Anthony Kuhn reports from Beijing.

(Soundbite of music)

ANTHONY KUHN: I want to fly high, says a pop song that corporate recruiters are using to tap into student's career ambitions. A Chinese pharmaceuticals company is here at Peoples University in Beijing to hire management trainees. But right now, many student's career ambitions are being overshadowed by fear of joblessness. Human resources major Sas Hoshua(ph) is one of the students attending this recruiting session.

Ms. SAS HOSHUA (Human Resources Major, Peoples University, Beijing): (Through Translator) Honestly, there's pressure here because in most years around a third of the senior class would have received at least verbal job offers by now. But this year, only a very few have gotten good news.

KUHN: Students here say that last year graduates could expect to find jobs paying the equivalent of about $370 a month. Now, many of them say they'll be lucky to make half that. Real estate management major Sura Shan(ph) says that in tough economic times students can't afford to worry about whether or not a job suits their interests or training.

Mr. SURA SHAN (Real Estate Management Major, Peoples University, Beijing): (Chinese spoken)

KUHN: This Company here is actually not a very good fit for me, he says, but right now I don't have a lot of choices. So I just need to find a job, and worry about the rest later.

China's top think tank, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, predicts that roughly a million and a half college graduates, or 12 percent of the total, will be unemployed this year. The economic crisis is partly to blame, but another reason is that there are more graduates looking for work. China has doubled enrolment among college-aged people to more than 20 percent in the past decade. Beijing Normal University labor expert, Lidush Shung(ph), says that it's normal for an education system expanding as fast as China's, to experience growing pains.

Mr. LIDUSH SHUNG (Labor Expert, Normal University, Beijing): (Through Translator) In 1998, the scope of China's higher education was half the size of India's. Now, it's double the size of India's. A lot of people blame the unemployment problem on this rapid expansion, but without it, China's economic development might not be able to achieve such progress.

KUHN: Only a couple of decades ago, China's Soviet style education system assigned jobs, and even college majors, to young people based on the personnel needs of state owned companies.

(Soundbite of job fair)

KUHN: Today, young people flock in search of work to urban job fairs, like this one at a Beijing exhibition hall. An information management major, who only gave his sir name, Sung(ph), browses among the recruiter's booths. Mr. Sung is from southern Jiangsu Province. He points out that education is prized as a ticket out of the countryside, and few of those who get out want to go back. But like migrant laborers, some college students may now have no choice.

Mr. SUNG (Information Management Major, Southern Jiangsu Province): (Through Translator) If I can't find a job in a big city, I may have to consider going back to my hometown to look for work. I've got to survive, after all. If I can't survive, what future is there to speak of?

KUHN: Many more migrant laborers are now out of work than college students, and the prospect of unrest among migrants would seem to be the bigger threat. But China's leaders are clearly worried about the prospect of disgruntled young adults, as Premier Wan Jabar(ph) recently told a bunch of soon-to-graduate Beijing College students, your troubles are also my troubles. Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Beijing.

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