Universities inflate graduate employment figures

Universities in Shanghai have been taken to task for inflating graduate employment figures as the Shanghai City administration, in cooperation with higher education institutions, recently published its first report on the destination of recent graduates.

While some have lauded the report – first published on the city administration’s Weibo social media account some weeks ago – for increasing transparency on employment prospects for graduates, others have said the Shanghai government was colluding with universities to “entice” students to enrol in these universities, according to an unusually frank commentary in the official Global Times newspaper.

The first ever report on student employment covered the 2015 graduating cohort from Shanghai’s 17 universities and included employment rates for each institution. It claimed 95% of Shanghai graduates received job offers or went on to masters degrees.

This compared to an overall employment rate for graduates in China at around 92% according to a report by the educational consultancy MyCos Research Institute released in June. But some cities have suggested that the unemployment rate for new graduates is nearer 84%.

Figures released this week by the Ministry of Education said more than 90% of bachelor degree graduates from 75 universities found jobs in 2015. In part, the ministry said, this was due to more 'flexible' employment including self-employment and launching start-ups.

Meanwhile, only two universities saw employment rates below 90% for masters graduates according to annual reports on employment released by the universities and cited by the ministry.

With graduate unemployment an annual concern in China as some 7.5 million students graduated in 2015 – 260,000 more than in 2014 – the high graduate employment figures for Shanghai have been regarded with disbelief. The city’s employment market is particularly competitive for new graduates.

“I think it is safe to presume that these figures have been inflated. Indeed, statistics from Shanghai Education Committee posted in June of 2015 suggested that among the 177,000 undergraduates in this city, only 62.4% had found work or been accepted into a masters programme,” according to Huang Lanlan an education commentator for the Global Times.

The economic downturn in 2015 was coupled with a drop in the numbers taking the national graduate school entrance examination for the second year running and a decline in postgraduate enrolment – yet this was not reflected in figures presented by universities for the number of students going on to masters degrees.

Accuracy questioned

Other graduates from Shanghai’s universities have also questioned the accuracy of the figures, noting on social media that their universities had forced them to sign an ‘employment agreement’ stating that they had found a job or gone on to further studies.

One graduate of the University of Shanghai for Science and Technology wrote that the university would not give out a graduation certificate “if you fail to sign an employment agreement before graduation”.

A graduate of the Shanghai Institute of Technology – which claims a 99.27% employment rate for its 2015 graduates – wrote: “To get our graduation certificates we had to sign employment agreements with the printer shop in front of our campus!”

Global Times’ Huang, who graduated from a Shanghai institution in 2011, said the way figures were inflated was evident. “I was planning to take a gap year before enrolling in a masters programme, so I didn’t sign an employment agreement. Nonetheless, a [university] administrator asked me to write down that I had ‘received an offer’ to attend a masters programme, which was not true.”

“By doing so I directly contributed to the false employment rate of my school,” Huang said.

Despite a high reputation enjoyed by Shanghai’s universities, a recent Ministry of Education report noted that Shanghai in particular offered the lowest number of jobs in humanities subjects such as Chinese literature, history or law.

Others argued that Shanghai’s institutions, among the most competitive in China, did not need to falsify their numbers to lure more applicants as they already receive too many applications.

In addition, they said, the authorities have for some years been withholding approval for university courses where employment levels are low, reducing the numbers leaving with less marketable qualifications.

A total of 178,000 students will graduate from Shanghai’s universities this year, compared to 177,000 last year, but China’s economic situation will see some graduates find it more difficult to secure a job, Su Ming, director of the Shanghai Education Commission predicted last year.

Xiong Bingqi, deputy director of the 21st Century Education Research Institute, a Beijing-based think tank said: “The services sector isn’t developed enough to create enough effective demand for college grads.”

Across the country a record 7.7 million will graduate from universities this year amid a sharply slowing economic growth rate.