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Is University in China Simply a Means to an End?

university students China

Apparently, the PRC thinks so. This week, the country’s Ministry of Education announced plans to phase out college majors that consistently produce graduates unable to find employment – more specifically, majors with employment rates for graduates below 60% for two consecutive years.

From China Real Time Report:

The move is meant to solve a problem that has surfaced as the number of China’s university educated have jumped to 8,930 people per every 100,000 in the year 2010, up nearly 150% from 2000, according to China’s 2010 Census. The surge of collge grads, while an accomplishment for the country, has contributed to an overflow of workers whose skill-sets don’t match with the needs of the export-led, manufacturing-based economy.

Though such a policy may maximize current economic model’s potential, the long-term result promised by scuttling academic departments is a non-diverse workforce. The report does not note which majors are in danger of being cut, but less popular research sciences and creative fields, being far from mature in China, come to mind as possible victims. Lest we remind you, the Factory Dream will only last so long: following the Euro crisis and faltering demand for global exports, manufacturing activity in China dropped this month. If China seeks to drive innovation, as suggested by their “National Patent Development Strategy (2011-2020),” they’d best develop systems that encourage risk-taking and interdisciplinary thinking.

With the dearth of local options for Chinese youth, perhaps it’s no surprise that a growing number of them have headed overseas for their higher education. The number of Chinese undergraduates in the U.S. leaped up to 40,000 this year, over four times the demographic in 2005. As a byproduct of the trend, this specific applicant niche has grown wildly competitive, to the point where a majority of incoming Chinese students are (allegedly) forging their recommendations and essays.

The emphasis on university education as result-oriented, as vocational training, has always been around in spades. China is not the only guilty party. But this new plan goes far beyond “means to an end” thinking, Machiavellian to the point where success isn’t even truly sustainable. By optimizing “whatever works”—for now—they are also childishly refusing to evolve, to look toward the future.

Do you think it was a good decision for China to cut supposedly irrelevant majors? What policy would you suggest?

(via WSJ; title image by Jim Grisanzio on Flickr)


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