Tuesday, January 12, 2010

What Do You Do With All Of Those Educated Young People?

As we lived and traveled around China last year, we encountered a lot of really, really smart young people. We're talking people who scored at or near the top on the gao kao, the national university entrance examination that pretty much determines one's educational pathway. These high scorers are beautiful minds who are awarded the privilege of attending the very best universities in their home provinces and, for the true cream of the crop, the country's premier institutions of higher education, like Peking University, Tsinghua University, and Fudan University.

More often than not, we found, through extended conversations, that the post-graduation prospects for these hard-working students tend to not be very bright. One truly brilliant graduate we know is right now finding that life in the working world is not a place where the full range of his abilities is easily appreciated and utilized.

Stories such as this have led us to continually wonder what might happen when the current generation of college graduates, millions and millions strong, finds themselves, in the main, not challenged or financially rewarded in their work lives, despite decades of sixteen hour school days. Will all of these underemployed smart people become discontented with their retail jobs and emerge as a source of social instability?

A recent announcement by Yin Weimin, the minister of Human Resources and Social Security, makes me think that the government is pondering this very question and has come up with a plan that may have the effect of placating, at least for a time, the emerging "lost" generation. According to Yin, "Chinese governments at all levels will accept more personnel with at least two years working experiences." By "work experiences," it has to be emphasized, the government means people who have worked specifically as farmers and blue-collar laborers.

This is no small announcement in that, in 2009 alone, about 120,000 people took jobs as civil servants. Like its American counterpart, the Chinese government is a big, big source of employment. Given the attractiveness of government work, one practical effect of the new policy is that it will likely, in the words of a Chinese researcher, "encourage more young people to find jobs in the countryside and alleviate the employment pressure at cities."

This "go back to the village and serve your country" message, as I see it, is likely to resonate well with the nationalistic pride felt by many well-educated young Chinese people. Once again, the government has seemingly found a way to tap into this deep reservoir of patriotism and chart a path toward maintaining, among a very key demographic group, the stability of the "harmonious society."



At 10:22 AM, Anonymous tmbreen said...

Good stuff Steve.I have similar thoughts about the young men who we educate here @ Mt St Joe. Way too many guys heading on the higher education is pursuit of LAw & Business degrees. Some day the house of cards known as College and University is going come crashing down. I wonder what Phoenix will emerge from the ashes...

At 4:33 PM, Blogger The Balla Family said...

Hey Tim. Speaking of law, it is the number one most difficult profession to land a job in in China, with an unemployment rate six months after graduation of 23 percent.



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