The unemployment rate for the 16-24 age group in China hit a record high of 21.3 % in June Photo: China Daily
Surging Youth Unemployment in China Drives Study Abroad Demand
China is grappling with a deepening crisis as its youth unemployment rate continues to surge, prompting a growing number of Chinese graduates to seek educational opportunities abroad.
A Punishing Job Market
Recent official data paints a gloomy picture for young Chinese job seekers, with the youth unemployment rate reaching a record high of 21.3 percent in June, following a steady climb from 20.8 percent in May. This alarming rise in youth unemployment is in stark contrast to countries such as the United States, Germany, South Korea, and Japan, which maintain youth unemployment rates below 7 percent.
Image Source: South China Morning Post
Why is the youth unemployment rate in China rising?
The rising youth unemployment rate in China can be attributed to a combination of factors. The economic uncertainty, a chilly investment climate, and the lingering impact of lockdowns have negatively affected various industries, leading to decreased profitability, limited recruitment, and job layoffs. Furthermore, the supply of university graduates exceeds the employment opportunities available, intensifying the challenge. This summer, there is an expected influx of 11.58 million new university graduates, an increase of 820,000 compared to the previous year, amplifying the competition for limited job openings and contributing to the rise in youth unemployment rates. The government has acknowledged the issue and responded with a series of policies aimed at revitalizing the job market. For instance, the provision of subsidies to state-owned companies willing to offer employment opportunities to unemployed university graduates.
Many individuals seek a sense of job security through China's civil service exam, as it is perceived as a stable career path. However, statistics reveal a daunting reality. The number of applicants for the exam has consistently exceeded one million annually for the past 13 years, reaching an astonishing 2.6 million applicants in 2023. With a discouraging ratio of 70 applicants to one available position, candidates are faced with immense pressure to secure a spot.
In an interview with China Report, Chu Zhaohui, a research fellow at the National Institute of Education Sciences, emphasized that while government positions may seem appealing to young people seeking stability, relying solely on this avenue is inadequate in addressing the broader employment crisis.
In the face of a sluggish domestic job market, studying overseas emerges as a more
secure option for Chinese students.
As youth unemployment surges to unprecedented levels, college graduates are confronted with formidable hurdles in securing suitable employment. A large number of graduates find themselves constrained to accept low-wage positions or compromise by entering fields unrelated to their educational qualifications. This disparity between the skills possessed by applicants and the requirements set by employers can be primarily attributed to a deficiency in "school-to-work linkage." Universities, regrettably, are not adequately equipping their students with the necessary tools and support to thrive in the job market.
A recent survey conducted by New Oriental sheds light on the evolving demands of employers. It reveals that 51 percent of employers now seek candidates with advanced degrees such as master's or doctoral degrees. This emphasizes the increasing demand for highly educated individuals in the job market. Simultaneously, there has been a notable rise in the number of individuals aged 25 and above expressing a desire to pursue postgraduate studies in China. Recognizing that a bachelor's degree alone may no longer suffice for their desired career paths, individuals are opting to further their education to enhance their qualifications.
Education requirement of employers for students withinternational degrees (%). From left to right, it goes in the order of Bachelor's, Master's, and Ph.D., with no restrictions
Students who intend to study abroad for Master's and Ph.D by age group (%)
Image Source: Report On ChineseStudents’ Overseas Study 2023, New Oriental
What is the implication for international educators?
The complex employment landscape faced by recent Chinese graduates presents both prospects and hurdles for overseas universities. On one hand, there is the potential for increased demand for graduate programs, particularly in burgeoning industries. On the other hand, there is a pressing need to refocus on career outcomes for Chinese international students, as a majority of them return to China upon completing their studies.
Universities should thoroughly assess how their career offices support Chinese students in navigating the job market back home. Areas for improvement include the incorporation of international specialists in career offices and the implementation of policies that facilitate Chinese companies in sharing job opportunities with their students. This entails addressing issues such as platform restrictions, language barriers for Chinese HR teams, rejection of international job postings, and biases favoring specific industries or well-known companies.
To effectively engage Chinese employers, universities can adopt innovative strategies such as establishing in-country networks, providing Chinese-language resources, and reevaluating moderation processes that may inadvertently disadvantage Chinese employers. A holistic approach to job opportunities is crucial, moving beyond favoring only "famous" companies during recruitment.
From a marketing perspective, universities should align their strategies with the aspirations and needs of Chinese students. Creating career-oriented content can highlight the employment prospects available to graduates, demonstrating the value of obtaining a degree from the institution. Sharing success stories of Chinese students who have achieved rewarding positions abroad after graduation serves as powerful testimonials, instilling confidence in prospective students and showcasing the potential career outcomes they can aspire to.
By addressing these various considerations, overseas universities can adopt a strategic and cohesive approach to supporting Chinese students in their career journeys. This not only enhances the university's reputation but also sets it apart from other institutions when it comes to attracting applicants from China.