Much like the U.S., China is aiming to address a problematic demographic that has recently emerged: a generation of jobless graduates. China’s solution to that problem, however, has some in the country scratching their heads. China’s Ministry of Education announced this week plans to phase out majors producing unemployable graduates, according to state-run media Xinhua. The government will soon start evaluating college majors by their employment rates, downsizing or cutting those studies in which less than 60% of graduates fail for two consecutive years to find work. The move is meant to solve a problem that has surfaced as the number of China’s university educated have jumped to 8,930 people per every 100,000 in 2010, up nearly 150% from 2000, according to China’s 2010 Census. The surge of collge grads, while an accomplishment for the country, has contributed to an overflow of workers whose skillsets don’t match with the needs of the export-led, manufacturing-based economy.
Yet the government’s decision to curb majors is facing resistance. Many university professors in China are unhappy with the Ministry of Education’s move, as it will likely shrink the talent pool needed for various subjects, such as biology, that are critical to the country’s aim of becoming a leader in science and technology but do not currently have a strong market demand, a report in the state-run China Daily report said. An op-ed in the Beijing News criticizes the approach for a different reason, saying that it will only spur false reporting of employment rates from schools that are looking for greater autonomy to produce more diversified, higher qualified students. Official data already shows that the country’s educated jobless, referred to as the “ant tribe,” appear to be decreasing. In 2010, 72% of recent graduates found work, up from 68% in 2009, according to the Ministry of Education. None of the reports specified which majors would be cut under the new rules, but there are signs that some universities have already started taking steps to decrease the size of programs that don’t result in paid positions. Enrollment in a Russian program at China’s Shenyang Normal University was cut to 25 students this year from 50 in previous years, according to a report in the China Daily.
Education has become a heated topic in China, as the country looks to propel the rise of its own companies and its own technologies. To succeed in that quest, the government has said, the country must produce more innovators. Tight restrictions over education are seen as the reason that creativity in China has been stifled and as the reason that so many have chosen to flee overseas for their studies. Chinese have questioned whether someone like Apple founder Steve Jobs could ever emerge from an education system that seeks to push down students who stand out from the crowd. Many Chinese students with enough funding have turned to universities in the U.S., which have a history of churning out graduates who’ve gone on to become some of the world’s top innovators. Last year, 128,000 Chinese students went to the U.S., making China the country with the highest number of overseas pupils in American universities, according to a 2010 report from the Institute of International Education.