Universities in China: Reforms are Required

As many managers worry over whether their factory workers will return after the Spring Festival, about 600,000 new graduates remain unemployed, a government official stated on January 26.

Ministry of Education statistics show that more than 6 million students graduated in China last year, up from 1.45 million in 2002.

The other day, I interviewed a recent graduate who was struggling to make ends meet at his current job, which paid him 1,500 yuan ($227) per month before tax. He said that he thought migrants who worked construction jobs were being paid more than 2,000 yuan ($303) a month even though they didn’t have a higher education. “What’s the point of studying for 16 years?” he asked, quizzically.

The graduate actually wanted to work for a Japanese company because he had studied their language, but none of the companies he interviewed with was willing to hire him because of his lack of experience.

On one side, a large number of graduates have failed to find satisfactory jobs; on the other, many multinational corporations can’t get enough highly skilled white-collar workers. The most common complaint that I’ve heard about new graduates is that they don’t think outside of the box and don’t know how to cope with difficulties. I believe this is the fault of China’s universities.

Reforms must be made to solve this problem. Firstly, students should be allowed to change their majors. In the US, students can change their majors at anytime. Many do during their college career. Chinese students, however, have to make that decision when they are 18 years old. Many of them later realize that they chose a course of study that didn’t suit them, but the higher education system makes it difficult to change majors. As a result, many students find themselves trapped in majors in which they have no interest or passion.

Secondly, universities should establish a department to help students prepare for their future careers. Most universities have such courses, but they remain impractical and meaningless.

Thirdly, universities should offer more opportunities for students to obtain practical, real-world experience with companies and organizations related to their majors. As a journalism major, how I wish my university would have offered more internship opportunities, but all we had was a chance to work at the Xinmin Evening News where boys were preferred, despite the fact that there were three boys and 22 girls in my class.

Fourthly, schools should put a lot more effort into teaching students how to think analytically and express themselves. Most classes are still graded based on final exams, which tend to only test students’ knowledge of textbooks and lectures. There is not enough classroom interaction and work outside of the classroom. My journalism teachers emphasized reciting the textbook as opposed to asking us to cover stories on campus.

Apart from reforming the universities, students themselves should be more proactive in finding opportunities to gain experience outside the classroom. I started working part-time right after high school. I had worked five jobs before graduating from university. Not only did I gain lots of experience, but also I managed to develop some connections, which got me a couple great job offers after I graduated. Some of my schoolmates thought I was lucky. But they should have known that success and opportunity only come to those who are well-prepared.

In the end, isn’t that also the job of higher education system?

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