Millions of Chinese students who sat the university entrance exam last week might have been better off staying home. University graduates in Beijing earn on average 1000 Yuan a month less than delivery workers, while truck drivers in Tianjin can earn almost twice as much as university grads in the same city, according to a report in the Economic Observer.
The paper made this handy chart to show variations in how depressing graduate prospects are in different parts of the country.
Why such poor returns on a university degree? First, China’s economy is out of step with the expansion of higher education, there aren’t enough jobs which require degrees. Second, as the number of universities has grown, the quality of university education has fallen, meaning students leave university barely more skilled than when they entered.
Given the poor quality of degree courses, its hard to justify going to a Chinese university on the grounds of the intrinsic value of education. Dating and parties are also discouraged on China’s campuses, so its not as if students can simply have fun either.
The toughness of the lives eeked out by graduates from undistinguished Chinese universities, working in service industries on the margins of China’s major cities, has been written about before. But that toughness is thrown into even sharper relief by a report in Southern Weekend about toll-booth workers on China’s expressways.
According to the article, high tolls charged on China’s new expressways mean huge profits of around 50-70% for the road companies. Cash-strapped local governments get a cut too, since they finance the projects. There is also a constant flow of staff between local government transport departments and the road development companies. In China, its entirely possible that the person responsible for approving a road in your city one year will be the person running the company building it the next year.
Given the close connections between road firms and the government, its no surprise that tolls haven’t been going down. But the other winners in the situation are toll-booth workers, who can earn up to 8000 yuan per month: that’s approaching three times as much as an average graduate in Beijing earns, according to the Economic Observer’s survey. Who are these tool-booth high-rollers? “Academic and technical requirements are not high” the article says, while “university students make up less than one percent” of employees.
University students: down your pens, and head for the roads. You have nothing to loose but your job in Starbucks.