walter russell mead peter berger lilia shevtsova adam garfinkle andrew a. michta
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China Skips College

Facing a grim job market for which they are unprepared and feeling cheated of not insignificant amounts of time and money, university graduates are ramping up their criticism of colleges. In case this scenario sounds familiar, it’s happening in China.

The Wall Street Journal notes that a 2006 survey on Chinese attitudes to higher education has resurfaced on Chinese microblogs and is attracting considerable attention. That poll found found 35% of recent Chinese college grads “regret” having gone to college, while 51.5% said they “didn’t learn anything useful.”

For readers in the US, the parallels are all too stark:

 “I don’t understand why I am asked to spend so much time studying English and take so many general courses when my major is Classical Chinese,” said one web user in Guangxi province. “We are disappointed because we expected so much and spent so much money,” said another user in Guangdong.

A number of microblog users complained that they are facing unfair competition for jobs from the children of the powerful and wealthy. One said, “Competing to win a job has now become competing to show who has a more privileged daddy.” A tougher job market has raised the volume of such grievances.

The growing discontentment would seem to undercut China’s reputation as an educational powerhouse. Despite there being more than 2,000 universities in China, its top-ranked school, Tsinghua, is ranked 30th in the Times Higher Education ranking of 2012. Frustrated by the poor options at home, China’s youth are increasingly choosing, when they can afford it, to study abroad – the number of graduates at Beijing’s top high schools receiving offers from colleges abroad has jumped 40% this year.

Beyond putting a dent in the illusion of China’s educational prowess, these findings also indicate that increasing numbers of students across the world – and not just in the US – are wondering whether the traditional university school system is worth the effort and the cost.

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  • http://Inthisdimension.com Alex Scipio

    Is it just me? Is china following the US toward students spending massive amounts of money and time on truly worthless degrees? Classical Chinese? Really? Someone – and if it’s a degreed course of study, more likely many hundreds (thousands?) of someones – getting a degree in 2012 (to join probably hundreds last year, the year before…) for which 50 positions IN THE ENTIRE WORLD may even EXIST?

    I really don’t care if china makes itself uncompetitive – that’s THEIR business. But in the US, if a school takes ANY government money (state or federal), they ought to be held accountable for the entire tuition if grads in useless majors who received good grades (grade inflation anyone?) cannot find a position within 6 months. And if even a significant minority of graduates with useless degrees (The American Literary Experience of Transgendered Persons in 19th Century America, as one example; Minority “Studies” as another), are not employable, those degrees should be restricted (again, at colleges getting govt money – free-market schools should do whatever they want), and/or they should lose accreditation as degree mills providing a worthless course of study for huge amounts of money.

  • http://facingzionwards.blogspot.com/ Luke Lea

    There is a tremendous amount of rote learning in Chinese schools and universities. Plus the Party controls the curriculum, faculty, promotions, etc. You can’t even type the words “civil society” on the web nowadays.

  • http://www.everymanblog.com Everyman

    Not to be forgotten is what may be the last chance to introduce the student to a world – or better yet, worlds – with which he/she may be unfamiliar, and may find interesting, and challenging, and worth a second or third look before the first of life’s courses of travel is undertaken. But still, all to the good to see these issues coming into focus, even belatedly.

  • Mick The Reactionary

    @Mead

    “Despite there being more than 2,000 universities in China, its top-ranked school, Tsinghua, is ranked 30th in the Times Higher Education ranking of 2012.”

    Since when quantity of schools implies top quality?

    I would imagine that China has 3 times more kids playing basketbal than US and 10 times more playing soccer than Spain.

    US and Spain will take apart China national teams in basketball and soccer in no time.

    On another hand Chinese University in 30th place in the world? Sounds pretty good to me. It means it is ranked higher than all but top 15-20 US schools, 5 in UK, 1-2 schools in Germany, France, Japan, Italy, etc.

    In fact it is too good to be true. I don’t believe that USA, UK, Japan, Germany, France, Russia, Italy, Holland don’t have more than 30 schools to outrank Chinese U.

    Does not make sense.

  • Kris

    Mick@4: In general, these rankings should be taken with many grains of salt.

    Here are some much more specific results. (Which in no way contradict your comment.)

  • joe mack

    we welcome Chinese frustrated by their country and wish them success in America.
    Woops, sorry.
    We are happy to repatriate wrong thinking Chinese to participate in a successful China.

    Don’t need none of that desire to achieve around here, pardner.
    Sheriff Obama is in charge here.

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