China’s desperate college graduates

This story really pulls at the heartstrings. For so many years, a degree was your ticket to success in China, and a huge number of newly minted college grads are finding that the jobs they’d set their hearts on simply aren’t there.

A tide of more than 30,000 students with polished resumes and high hopes surged into a job fair here so eager to meet with employers that they shattered four glass doors and splayed the side walls of an escalator in what became a near riot.

As the crowd of youths swelled out of control, students and security guards said, police tried to beat back the throng but to no avail. Pushing, screaming and climbing over one another, the students charged on, heading for the booths inside the Zhongyuan International Exhibition Center, where company recruiters waited with the keys to China’s new economy.

“You didn’t even need to walk in the main hall, because people were sweeping you along all the time,” said Hou Shuangshuang, 23, an e-commerce major with long hair who was among the students who overflowed the job fair when it opened Sunday. “At some points, your feet couldn’t even touch the ground.”

The fact that all these kids are graduating from college is a sign of how things in China are booming. But the economy simply can’t absorb all the new degree holders, and soon there are going to be lots of angry hamburger flippers who feel disenfranchised from all the success. And according to an article that just came out in Business Week, graduates with MBAs, once a sure-fire ticket to heaven, are faring no better – although in their case, the main reason seems to be that the quality of China’s MBA graduates is relatively wretched.

Despite the explosion in Chinese B-schools, most corporate recruiters give graduates middling to poor marks, according to a BusinessWeek survey of 173 corporate recruiters at both Chinese and multinational companies with operations on the mainland.

In our survey, undertaken by recruitment consulting firm Universum Communications Inc., fewer than 20% of respondents described Chinese MBA graduates as either good or excellent, and only 34% said students’ quality had improved over the past three years. “Students lack confidence and have no idea how to express themselves,” said Nona Kang, of aig Business Consulting, in a typical comment. “Short on the spirit of risk-taking,” said Teresa Li, group director of human resources and administration at Tristate Holdings Ltd., a Hong Kong garment manufacturer.

It sounds as if, at least for now, business graduates from Taiwan and Hong Kong and elsewhere will still be in demand over on the Mainland, as China’s own MBA grads simply can’t cut it:

Why are potential employers dissatisfied? One issue is that the lure of big bucks from MBA tuitions, which in China can run as high as $27,500 for a 20-month course of study, has led to a flood of less reputable programs. “Many entrepreneurs and companies have set up their own universities, and the quality has gone down,” says Wang Fanghua, dean of the Antai College of Economics & Management at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, a top-rated school in our survey.

That means many companies are thinking twice about hiring newly minted MBA grads. Some employers also note that an educational system emphasizing rote memorization and deference to authority doesn’t turn out take-charge managers. “In the classroom, we can get students to analyze the heck out of a problem, but to get them to make a decision is very difficult,” says Lydia J. Price, associate dean at the MBA program at China Europe International Business School, a joint venture between the Shanghai government and the European Union.

No wonder many employers prefer Chinese grads from B-schools outside China such as Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton. “The strength of instruction that they get in these programs, plus the experience they get studying overseas, makes [these] graduates very attractive,” says Emre Demokan, senior manager of staffing for Microsoft China.

I know, it’s a cruel and competitive world, and those who are best educated and best fit should get the best jobs. But it’s still hard not to feel sorry for these Chinese graduates whose dreams, once so ambitious, have cracked and crumbled upon their encounter with reality.

The Discussion: One Comment

Some blame goes on the parents. Instead of helping their kids develop self-worth, independent thinking, responsibility, etc., they are told “you better get good grades, because you’ll be feeding us when we’re old”. While american students are flipping burgers at McDonald’s to pay for electronics, cars, and other toys during high school (yes, while still studying), Chinese students are learning advanced calculus despite their inability to tie their own shoes. So yes, these students are going to be disappointed, I hope their parents get what’s coming when Jr. can’t pay for their retirement.

November 28, 2006 @ 8:29 am | Comment

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