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2020-06-12 11:02:44

A province in eastern China is asking its colleges and universities to ensure that at least 70% of their fresh graduates are employed by September, Sixth Tone’s sister publication The Paper reported Thursday.

According to the report, education authorities in Fujian province have tasked schools with meeting the quota by Sept. 1. Those that do not will be “invited for a chat” with officials.

The order comes as China is facing its grimmest graduation season in years, due to its still-recovering economy after the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, the number of new graduates in the country continues to climb: An estimated 8.7 million students will graduate this year, up from 5.7 million a decade ago.

An administrator at a university in Fujian told Sixth Tone that he had been informed about the quota during a meeting Monday. He did not disclose his name, as he wasn’t authorized to speak with the media.

The administrator estimated the proportion of employed fresh graduates from his department to be around half of the 70% target. The pressure he’s now feeling to improve that rate is high, he said.

Normally, the source said, over 96% of graduates from his department manage to get jobs. He said he hadn’t been told whether there would be punishments for underachieving schools.

“I’m not aware of this being mandatory,” said the administrator, whose duties include overseeing graduate employment. “Those at the end of the tail will probably be invited for a conversation.”

Even before the pandemic, competition in China was fierce for jobs requiring a college education, thanks to a rapidly rising number of degree-holders. In a 2019 survey by recruitment platform Zhaopin.com, 88% of respondents said it was difficult to find work after graduating.

The coronavirus struck during the spring term, the peak time for graduate recruitment in the country. Companies typically attend on-campus careers fairs during this period, but this year’s events were either canceled or held online.

Zhang Qihao, a human resources expert with the Chinese search site 51job, which also partners with colleges, told Sixth Tone that job listings for graduates declined by 20-25% during this year’s recruiting season. Amid the downturn, private firms — especially small and medium-sized businesses — have fewer incentives to hire fresh graduates.

“Given the cost and time of training, some firms are reluctant to hire recent graduates, especially as this year’s pandemic has made their situations hard,” said Zhang.

Earlier this year, China’s Ministry of Education announced that national enrollment quotas for college graduates opting to continue their studies in the country would be increased, with 189,000 additional spots being opened up for bachelor’s degree holders studying toward their master’s degrees, and 322,000 additional spots for vocational college graduates hoping to earn their bachelor’s degrees.

Jilin province in northeastern China is asking state organs to create more job openings for fresh graduates, and other provincial-level regions have done the same. Shanghai, meanwhile, has added a new criterion — “graduate employment rate” — to local universities’ performance reviews.

Additional reporting: Ye Ruolin; editor: David Paulk.

(Header image: A teacher directs graduates to pose for a group photo during a graduation ceremony in Wuhan, Hubei province, June 11, Don McCurren/IC)