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Don’t aim too high or be picky about jobs, China colleges tell its graduates

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At this year’s commencement ceremony for the Chongqing Metropolitan College of Science and Technology, in southwestern China, the graduating class did not receive the usual lofty message to pursue their dreams. Instead, they were dealt a harsh dose of reality. “You must not aim too high or be picky about work,” Huang Zongming, the college’s president, told the more than 9,000 graduates in June. “The opportunities are fleeting.”

A record number of Chinese college graduates are entering the job market, exacerbating an already bleak employment outlook for the country’s young people. China’s unemployment rate for 16- to 24-year-olds hit a record 21.3% in June. It is expected to climb even further in July once the next wave of graduates officially transitions from students to job seekers.
Government policymakers struggling to address the problem are now leaning on colleges to do more to find jobs for graduates. Top school officials are being encouraged to visit companies to unearth opportunities. In some cases, the scrutiny is so intense that students resort to fabricating job offers to placate school officials.

Over the past three decades, as China’s economy grew by leaps and bounds, more people attended college, seeing it as a pathway to promising careers. The number of students enrolling in colleges and universities increased to 10.1 million in 2022 from 754,000 in 1992, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. This year’s estimated graduating class of 11.6 million students is expected to be the largest ever, and future classes are expected to be even bigger. At the same time, the economy is not growing like it once did.
China’s youth unemployment rate has doubled in the past four years, a period of economic volatility induced by Beijing’s “zero-Covid” measures that left companies wary of hiring. In addition, government crackdowns and tighter supervision have subdued once-vibrant industries such as online education, technology and real estate. China’s economy has also not created enough of the high-paying white-collar jobs that many college graduates are seeking, intensifying competition for the most appealing roles. The problem of unemployment may not abate for a decade, carrying potentially bigger ramifications for the country’s leadership, said a June report from the China Macroeconomy Forum, a thinktank with Renmin University of China. “If it is not handled properly, it will cause other social problems beyond the economy, and it could even ignite the fuse of political problems,” the report said.



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