‘Low employment’ university courses not approved

Universities and colleges are coming under pressure to offer more relevant degrees, as graduate unemployment levels in China remain stubbornly high. The Ministry of Education said this week that it had refused authorisation for over 250 courses at 60 institutions around the country for which permission had been sought.

These include golf industry management, global health studies, network security, geriatric care, and law enforcement, a notice on the ministry website indicated. Institutions hoping to start new majors must demonstrate a market need and demand.

According to rules approved by the ministry two years ago, even existing degree courses can be cancelled if fewer than 60% of graduates from two successive years fail to find work.

But the authorities have also criticised a ‘herd mentality, where students flock to fashionable courses rather than applying for subjects they are interested in or have an aptitude for.

Universities also offer courses that they perceive to be popular, often leading to an oversupply when the job market cannot absorb the large numbers.

The Oriental Morning Post newspaper based in Shanghai cited officials of the Shanghai Municipal Education Commission as saying that many universities run the same subjects not urgently needed by the jobs market.

For example, 15 universities in Shanghai offer the same degree in Marxism and Applied Economics, “which is above market demand”, the report said.

The commission has said it will reform the allocation of education funding so that it is based on how well degree subjects “serve the needs of society”.

According to a list released by the commission last month, business administration, electronic engineering, oceanic science, sociology, nursing, public health and design were among the subjects that were in demand among employers. Such courses would continue to be approved.

Elsewhere in the country, the Education Ministry nonetheless continues to approve new degree courses for subjects deemed important even though demand has not yet been demonstrated.

These include Amharic and Kyrgyz at the Beijing Foreign Studies University, and traditional medicine of the Dai minority group at the Yunnan Traditional Chinese Medicine College, which have just received approval.

Although official figures have not been released, surveys by the higher education consultancy My China Occupations Skills (MyCos), which have been widely quoted by official media, found that half of 6.8 million 2012 graduates were still unemployed months after graduation, while 8% of those who graduated in 2011 – some 570,000 graduates – had not found jobs by December 2012.

The problem of unemployment has meant that a record number of graduating students – some 1.8 million – sat for China’s National Entrance Examination for Postgraduates, even though for the past three years employment rates for postgraduates have been even worse than for graduates with first degrees.

Less that 30% of students with masters degrees secured jobs last year, according to a MyCos survey conducted in December and January. MyCos found, however, that in 2012 employment prospects among graduates improved by around 6% compared to the previous year.