Gaokao Quitters Multiply as ‘Sea Turtles’ Flounder

Amid bleak job prospects for many of China’s fresh college graduates, The Economist reports that even an education abroad is no longer the golden ticket it once was:

[…] Several studies show that sea turtles on average must now wait longer to find a less senior post at a smaller salary premium over local hires. The weakening for all is one reason. Another is that, as China’s domestic market has taken off, industries such as e-commerce have evolved in ways unfamiliar to those who spent years abroad. Gary Rieschel of Qiming Ventures, a venture-capital firm, says that investors who a decade ago would have funded only those returning from Silicon Valley are now backing entrepreneurs from local universities, who are more familiar with local consumption patterns, computer-gaming habits and social media such as Weibo and Weixin.

As China has boomed, its managers have started to shed their inferiority complex. A senior executive at Tencent, a Chinese social-media giant, says he still poaches sea turtles from foreign firms, but finds they have difficulty managing local engineers. A European investment banker says turtles often cling to quaint Western notions like transparency, meritocracy and ethics, which puts them at a disadvantage in China’s hyper-Darwinian economy, where locals are more willing to do whatever the boss or client wants. [Source]

For now, wealthy Chinese students are still flocking overseas—which, as The Economist notes, may be part of the problem. But Siyang Wang writes at Tea Leaf Nation that a growing number of other young Chinese are turning down the chance of a college education altogether:

Over the past five years, figures for those taking the gaokao [college entrance examination] have been declining quite dramatically, from a peak of 10.5 million in 2008 to 9.15 million in 2012, due in part to the shrinking number of young people in China. On the other hand, the number of “gaokao quitters” has steadily increased. According to the statistics released by the Ministry of Education in 2013, among the one million high school students who gave up on the gaokao, around 80% choose to enter the job market right away and the rest are either planning to study overseas or taking the exam next year. Unlike the young people of the 1980s or even 1990s, today, more and more are inclined to believe that knowledge is useless rather than a way to change one’s destiny.

[…] According to a recent research conducted by the Shanghai Academy of Educational Science, between 2010 and 2020, approximately 94 million college graduates will enter the job market, but only 46 million white-collar jobs will be available, so nearly half of college graduates may have to become blue-collar workers. In light of this, giving up on the gaokao and skipping college to accumulate more work experience may not be such a bad move after all. [Source]

Whether blue-collar work really is a better long-term bet is open to debate, however. Some of those who have already graduated have chosen to remain un- or underemployed rather than take up readily available manufacturing jobs for fear that this would limit later career prospects. See more on prospects for China’s students and graduates via CDT.