The Chinese government is thinking about overhauling its higher education system to fix a vexing issue of supply. According to Wu Daohuai, the director of the department of vocational skills developments division of the Government Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, the country is dealing with an oversupply of university graduates and an undersupply of people trained to work in the high-tech factories that make up the bulk of China's manufacturing sector.
China's post-secondary education policy and its focus on increasing the number of college graduates has worked too well, explains Wu. An ever larger percentage of Chinese high school graduates are choosing to go to university instead of entering vocational courses. The issue is compounded by the fact that Chinese colleges and universities focus their academic programs on theoretical rather than practical knowledge. With that kind of preparation, graduates have increasingly grown to expect high-paying white-collar jobs upon leaving school — something that the economy is less and less able to provide.
This also means that the pool of young people from which the economy draws its blue-collar worker has also been shrinking. This is why, according to Labor Authorities in Zhengzhou, capital of Henan Province, only 15,000 out of 70,0000 university graduates were able to obtain employment last year even though there over 90,000 positions advertised at the local job fairs. The report showed that the preference of the college-educated for white-collar work even transcends the issue of money. Those with a college degree were more likely to accept lower-paid professional work than a higher-paying blue-collar job.
The employment outlook for university graduates is tougher now because 200,000 more graduates are expected to leave school this year. Wu said the current system has led to a huge waste of labor resources.
"We should make becoming a technician more attractive to youths, with more favourable policies and incentives to encourage young people to learn skills and do technical work," he said.
The government will allocate more funding to support the development of vocational schools, he said.
The government expects to modernize its vocational education system by as early as 2015. Although only 22 million people pursued vocational education this year, Wu expects this number to grow as the modernized schools increasingly come online.
Some students in vocational schools are there because they can read the writing on the wall. Zhou Hao, a 22-year-old former Peking University student said he left the college in order to transfer to the Beijing Industrial Technical College in 2010.
"I disliked the major in the university, and the ideal job in my mind is one where I can make real products with my hands," he said. Zhou is interested in computer-based mechanical operation, and students in his college can usually find good jobs after graduation.
"My parents opposed my quitting the university, but I finally convinced them because I believe someone – no matter if he takes vocational or university studies – should not take a real white-collar job right after graduation," he said. "All people would start work from the grassroots."