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Millions of Chinese Graduates Either Unemployed or Underemployed Following Graduation

Published: July 20, 2021
NANJING, CHINA - JUNE 20: (CHINA OUT) Graduates attend a graduation ceremony at the Nanjing University on June 20, 2006 in Nanjing of Jiangsu Province, China. (Image: China Photos/Getty Images)

Chinese universities are producing millions of graduates each year with higher and higher levels of education, however, after graduation many of these former students are finding themselves either unemployed or underemployed. Many are struggling to navigate the increasingly intense and competitive job market. 

A record number of university graduates — 9.09 million — have entered the job market in China this summer, an increase of approximately 350,000 from 2020, according to the Chinese Ministry of Education. 

Official data has shown that over 54 percent of Chinese between the ages of 18 and 22 were enrolled in post-secondary education institutes in 2020.

Jennifer Feng, chief human resources expert for 51job, China’s leading recruitment firm, told South China Morning Post (SCMP) that “this means we have entered an era of popularisation of higher education. More than a half of the young people you run into in the street have a higher diploma.”

While on the surface, this level of education in a populace is regarded as good, the reality is that there is an emerging army of unemployed university graduates that could fuel unrest similar to the kind that prompted the Tiananmen square protests in 1989. 

The unemployed masses

According to the most recent data, the unemployment rate among young people in China’s cities increased by 1.6 percent in June just as a record number of graduates started their job search. 

The jobless rate for people between the ages of 16 and 24 was reported as 15.4 percent, according to China’s National Bureau of Statistics. However, this jobless rate is most likely much higher. 

Chinese universities regularly boast that the mass majority — 90 to 95 percent — of graduates of their universities find employment after graduating. Sometimes figures as high as 99.5 percent are claimed. These statistics are skewed for a number of reasons. 

According to informed sources in China, it is an open secret that all faculties in Chinese universities report employment rates of over 95 percent, every year. 

Many universities require that a graduate provide the university with a letter of employment prior to the release of their diploma. This leads many recent graduates to forge employment letters in order to obtain their diploma. This is just one factor that is leading to fictitious university graduate employment rates.

Many speculate that the jobless rate among recent graduates is in fact closer to 30 percent. 

In addition, the pandemic has led to more overseas students choosing to return home to find jobs. A survey by WokSop, a global career data development database, shows that the number of international students who wish to return to China for employment in 2021 has increased by 48 percent compared to 2020. 

Further compounding the problem, an article on China’s social media site QQ quotes information from a national recruitment site,, which shows that 26.3 pcernt of the 2020 graduates directly affected by the pandemic last year still had not solved their employment problems after they had graduated.

The underemployed masses

While finding gainful employment in China is a challenge for most new graduates, many of those who do find employment are finding it in areas that they either didn’t study for or are taking positions that are well below their education level.

Reports of graduates with masters degrees taking employment in low skill or manual labor positions have lit up the internet in China. 

Cigarette manufacturer China Tobacco Henan Industrial Co. has reported that nearly a third of the 135 newly recruited production line workers held a master’s degree. Some of these new recruits graduated from some of China’s highest-ranking universities, reported the SCMP

Another example of graduates working under their education level is that of a 29-year-old university graduate — who graduated from a top Chinese university — who is now working as a domestic nanny. 

“Your Trust Home Service, a Shanghai-based high-end housekeeping company, released the resume of the graduate, whose identity was redacted, on a recruitment platform on Wednesday and quickly generated online discussion”, reported the SCMP.

Her employment at the high-end housekeeping company has been widely panned as a “waste of talent” considering she had graduated from the 17th best university in the world, Tsinghua University, according to QS World University Rankings

Graduates from top universities like Tsinghua and Peking universities are supposed to improve or change the nation however the reality is that many graduates are finding themselves either unable to secure employment, or working jobs that are well below what they studied for.