A crisis on campus

EVER since China has opened up to the outside world, its economy has been bringing smiles to millions of people and sending an equal number of students to various colleges and universities across the country.

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Published: Sat 20 May 2006, 9:58 AM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 5:20 PM

In the initial years of economic liberalisation, the explosive growth of educated class had served well the interests of the country and the party. But as China’s living standards have started rising and employment situation in manufacture and service sectors is nearing zero levels, the government has suddenly realised that more students are passing out of institutions of higher learning than they could be absorbed.

In a country of 1.3 billion people, a few thousand graduates remaining unemployed shouldn’t pose any problem. But they do worry a government that controls its population and zealously guards the mechanics of input and output. So Beijing has decided to go slow on college admissions to reduce the number of graduates seeking jobs and lessen the burden on campuses.

Since 1998, college and university admissions have gone up by 500 per cent and their current student strength is estimated to be 23 million. The number of graduates coming out of colleges has been put at 4.1 million whereas the jobs available for them are only 1.6 million. Which means three youngsters are available for every single job. The Chinese economy, clocking up an average 10 per cent growth, needs a sizeable number of well educated and technically qualified people every year to maintain the current pace of growth.

Excess availability of manpower leads to unhealthy competition and lowering of wages. Another problem is, unemployable and jobless youth raise social tensions and clamour for political and individual rights. Though China is free from all the ills that dog the industry elsewhere, the Communist leadership doesn’t want a repeat of 1989 Tiananmen Square protests when thousands of students marched for democracy.

On the face of it, China’s sluice gate college admission policy looks attractive and worth emulating by highly populated countries such as India. But if graduate level entry is restricted to resolve campus crises, it is going to swell the ranks of school students.

As the national wealth increases and the middle class becomes more and more prosperous, the glamour of gaining a university degree will only grow. If students are denied home education, they move to other countries, the preferred destination being the US, to pursue their ambition. The key to such ticklish issues is to revamp education priorities to meet the country’s future needs, particularly in manpower-rich countries.

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