Chinese College Graduates Play It Safe and Lose Out

At The Wall Street Journal, Bob Davis describes how prestige and security are driving fresh graduates towards jobs in government or state-owned enterprises, rather than private companies or entrepreneurship:

Over the past decade, the number of new graduates from Chinese universities has increased sixfold to more than six million a year, creating an epic glut that is depressing wages, leaving many recent college graduates without jobs and making students fearful about their future. Two-thirds of Chinese graduates say they want to work either in the government or big state-owned firms, which are seen as recession-proof, rather than at the private companies that have powered China’s remarkable economic climb, surveys indicate. Few college students today, according to the surveys, are ready to leave the safe shores of government work and “jump into the sea,” as the Chinese expression goes, to join startups or go into business for themselves, although many of their parents did just that in the 1990s.

Chinese economists worry that waning entrepreneurial zeal could hobble China’s ability to remake its economy and reach the ranks of wealthy nations. “The current education system does not produce people who are innovative,” says Li Hongbin, a Tsinghua University economist who specializes in education and conducted some of the surveys. “That makes it harder for the country to reach its long-term goal of building an innovative society.”

For many, though, the choice is less between state and start-up than accepting factory jobs or holding out for white-collar work.

In a second article, Davis focuses on the sacrifices made by one rural northern family to send their son to college, and the lingering question of whether the investment will pay off financially:

Four years ago, Gao Shangming was convinced that his son Yueqing needed to remain in the family’s one-room apartment and help harvest corn rather than go to college. “Our financial situation wasn’t good,” the 50-year-old peasant farmer says.

But Gao Yueqing was determined to escape the dusty north China mountain village of 200 households where nearly all young people either become farmers or migrate to nearby cities to work in restaurants. His father’s relatives talked up young Gao’s case, as did a respected high-school teacher who told the elder Gao how hardworking his son was.

The clincher: “He told me, ‘If I let him get a college degree, he’d make more money,'” the elder Gao recalls.

[…] Gao Yueqing is set to graduate this June with a degree in accounting, the most practical major he and his father could agree upon. But the younger Mr. Gao, like many Chinese college students, is finding it hard to nail a job, especially one that pays decently.

See also ‘In China, Betting It All on a Child in College‘, via CDT.