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    China Steps Up Crackdown on Fake Employment as Students Face Continued Pressure From Universities

    Students told Sixth Tone that their universities are forcing them to sign bogus employment contracts and certificates.
    Aug 11, 2023#education

    Despite an official ban, Chinese students say that their universities and colleges are still submitting spurious employment agreements without graduates’ knowledge and pressuring them into fake employment to meet strict employment quotas.

    Though the practice has existed for years, experts told Sixth Tone that the trend has worsened this year due to a difficult job market, which makes it more difficult for universities to have high graduate employment rates.  

    On Aug. 4, the Ministry of Education strengthened its crackdown on falsified graduate employment data by sending its own task forces to carry out inspections of various provinces, without specifying which ones. The task forces will vet employment-related data provided by universities and investigate tips, according to the official announcement, which also had contact information for students to report their universities. 

    Students graduating this year told Sixth Tone that they have been recent victims of the practice. A graduate from the Hunan University of Finance and Economics who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter accused the university of counterfeiting a labor contract and uploading it onto the national graduate employment services platform without her knowledge. She claimed that the signature on the contract was not signed by her.

    Photos shared on the graduate’s social media account of her employment contract show her as “employed” at a Beijing-based culture and media company. Though she managed to cancel the contract on the platform, she still worries about whether the contract might affect her chances of securing a civil service job if it is discovered that she has already “signed” an employment contract. 

    Neither the Hunan University of Finance and Economics nor the Beijing culture and media company responded to Sixth Tone’s request for comment by publication time. 

    Another graduate, surnamed Yin from the Inner Mongolia Medical University, accused her class adviser of drafting a bogus job admission certificate and pressuring her into getting a stamp from her father’s company so she could be counted as being employed in the school’s employment database in July. 

    “She promised it would have no impact on my future plans and asked me to do the school a favor,” Yin told Sixth Tone.  

    Reluctant to cooperate at first, Yin eventually complied as she feared not doing so would affect her master’s application in the future. Yin’s name appears with another student who Yin does not know on the employment certificate, which was reviewed by Sixth Tone. 

    The Inner Mongolia Medical University could not be reached for comment.

    In addition to students being forced into signing bogus employment contracts, some students also say their teachers are putting huge pressure on them to secure employment. Xie Tingting, using a pseudonym for fear of retaliation, claims that her college in central China has reprimanded her and her classmates for not submitting employment agreements in the past months.

    A screenshot of messages between the students and a teacher reviewed by Sixth Tone shows the teacher suggesting that failure to provide an employment contract could lead to problems in receiving their graduation diplomas.

    Xie claims that her college asked the students to seek permission before replying to requests for employment information sent out by education authorities — unless they have already secured employment.

    The college could not be reached for comment.

    The Ministry of Education has a “zero-tolerance” attitude toward universities forcing graduates to sign employment contracts in any form, including by threatening to withhold their diplomas. The latest move by the ministry to send task forces around the country marks a clear escalation, according to Chu Zhaohui, a researcher at the China National Academy of Educational Sciences. 

    The researcher told Sixth Tone that the practice of faking employment data has grown more common among tertiary education institutions this year due to record high youth unemployment rates, prompting authorities to adopt more targeted measures to combat fraudulent data reporting. 

    According to official figures, a record number of 11.6 million graduates will enter the labor market this year, an increase of 820,000 from last year. The State Council, China’s cabinet, has introduced a raft of measures to help graduates find employment, including at least 1 million internship opportunities.

    On social media, posts sharing tips about securing bogus employment certificates can easily be found. Demand for such certificates has also led to a black market, with vendors on e-commerce platforms such as Taobao offering access to companies that can provide bogus certificates for around 100 yuan ($14). 

    It is difficult for authorities to stamp out the practice given that graduate employment rates are closely tied to universities’ performance evaluations and reputations, Chu explained. He believes universities feel pressured into engaging in such behavior when they see others doing so. 

    Since 2011, the Ministry of Education has required that majors with employment rates under 60% for two years in a row face a deduction of enrollment slots or even be canceled. 

    Xiong Bingqi, the deputy dean of the 21st Century Education Research Institute, told Sixth Tone that universities should be given more autonomy in terms of the subjects they offer, with third-party agencies supporting their decision-making through employment-related surveys.

    Chu highlighted the importance of third-party inspections of graduate employment data to prevent fraud and also stressed the importance of timing. 

    “Employment data among students half a year or a year following graduation would serve as a better reference compared with data collected instantly after graduation,” the researcher said.

    Additional reporting: Cui Yang; editor: Vincent Chow. 

    (Header image: A job fair for master's and doctorate graduates in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, March 11, 2022. VCG)