CHannahof economy The situation is dire. Young people feel a lot of pain. The unemployment rate for 16-24 year olds in China is 18%. This figure is an underestimate: it misses rural youth and those who have been unemployed for more than three months. The crisis is hurting even relatively privileged young people, including the nearly 3.5 million who earned undergraduate degrees this year.
The pandemic-induced lockdowns are hurting the entire economy. Some industries that previously employed millions of graduates have shrunk after Communist Party leaders declared them a threat to economic and social stability. Specifically, leaders squeezed big real estate developers in the name of curbing debt-fueled speculation. They impose fines on Internet companies deemed too powerful. Almost overnight, they shattered an after-school tutoring industry that was accused of fomenting vicious competition between families. Many young people are fleeing the business world for safer havens. Nearly 2.6 million people signed up for the national civil service examination, a big increase over last year. And many more are applying to graduate school. Frustrating the ambitions of university graduates poses political risks in the long run. A group of outspoken middle-class parents have become accustomed to the notion that their children will have bright prospects in a rising China. Lesser known is another group trying to break into the workforce: the millions of vocational and technical college students.
Vocational students may be considered prepared for such a downturn. After all, they study real-world skills, not abstract academic concepts. China’s manufacturing sector has fared better than many others during the pandemic, in part because of “closed-loop” policies, a euphemism for shutting down workers in factories and letting them sleep on-site for weeks on end. Many manufacturing companies report a shortage of skilled technicians and often struggle to recruit younger workers. The migrant workers who built modern China, some of whom are the parents of today’s vocational students, are aging. There will still be 292 million migrant workers working in cities far from home in 2021, but their average age has risen to nearly 42. The proportion of migrant workers in their teens or 20s has halved in the past decade or so.
Alas, many employers look down on vocational colleges. These institutions are at the end of the educational track to which about 40% of students are sent.A big cut-off point is high school entrance examination take an exam. It divides teens into two types of high schools: high-achieving high schools are academic high schools, and the rest are vocational high schools. Later, vocational colleges also recruited many high school students who failed in their grades. college entrance examination, a terrible college entrance examination. Despite attempts at reform, the vocational sector remains unpopular and almost forgotten, even though it teaches more young people than the university. A new law declares vocational colleges to be as important as universities and calls for businesses to play an important role in technical education. It was about rebuilding bridges to the workplace that crumbled in the late 1990s, when many state-owned enterprises went bankrupt or sold off and stopped sponsoring vocational schools. China should learn from apprentices in places like Germany, says a senior professor. He also ranted that young people today are “fearful of suffering”.
On a damp, gray autumn day, Chaguan traveled to Jiujiang, a port city along the Yangtze River in the impoverished landlocked province of Jiangxi. There, he talks to students at the Jiujiang Vocational and Technical College, which was founded in 1960 as a shipbuilding school. Some subscribe to the happy theory that vocational colleges teach how things work in practice, and colleges teach why things work theoretically, so that they complement each other. They then describe the hard-to-change social and even cultural forces that frustrate them. A shipping major joked that Peking University is the most famous institution in China. “You know what they say, Peking University computer students can’t fix computers.” In practice, vocational degrees are not respected, she said. “We even think that college is better than vocational school.” Like several Jiujiang students, she is also depressed about using her studies to find a job. The shipping industry doesn’t like women, she said. Her own teacher has warned of “blatant” sexism in recruitment.
Families expect different things from sons and daughters, said a teenage boy and girl over lunch at a bustling restaurant. The girl said that her son was under pressure to buy a house to support his family, so his salary was very important. A daughter may be forced to find a stable but low-paying job in her hometown, such as a nurse or a state-owned enterprise, so she can care for her parents. Asked why they both studied information technology hardware, the pair replied: “Because we didn’t get good grades.”
all about grades
In China, many students are assigned courses based on test scores. A 19-year-old boy who is learning to repair electric cars is one of them. He admits he doesn’t like the job, doesn’t know what to do and wants to live close to his family.Other students expressed general interest in participating reincarnationan exam that allows higher vocational students to transfer to ordinary universities.
The existence of the exam undercuts official claims that vocational and academic studies are treated equally. In fact, as the economy slowed, the Jiangxi provincial government sharply increased the quotas for allowing students to transfer. Before the pandemic, the province awarded 2,770 student transfer places in 2019. It offers 42,000 places this year. While your columnist talks to students, a salesman from a private education company sets up a roadside booth touting weekend and evening schools to prepare young people for a future of study. reincarnationVocational degrees are worthless, the salesman boldly said: just apply to be a teacher or a civil servant. Business is booming, he added. Vocational students in Jiujiang are at the wrong end of an unequal examination system. In an economic downturn, the gap will widen.■
Read more from our China columnist Chaguan:
China’s steampunk covid response (November 17)
Xi Jinping Revises the Chinese Dream (November 10)
Chinese cities forgotten by the new crown (November 3)
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