The lives of recent Chinese graduates – Does a university degree bring a better life?

View of the town where they attended University

A few weeks ago I sent a very brief survey to a class of my former students as a way of checking on their progress since graduation. Out of the 20+ students I sent the questions to, 9 replied. Those who did not reply may have been too busy to respond, or without internet (due to geography or poverty), or simply had no interest in participating. These students attended a low-level university (4-year program) in Guangxi province.

The questions I asked were:

1. What kind of company do you currently work for? How much money do you earn each month? How many hours do you work each week? Where is it located?
2. Are you satisfied with your work?
3. Does your job make use of your university education?
4. Do you plan to stay at your company for more than 1 year?
5. How did you choose this job?
6. Do you feel hopeful about your future?
7. Is there any message you would like to pass on about life in China?

Responses were edited to facilitate easier reading, but the original meaning was preserved.

Kate – I work in a private company in Shanghai. I work 8 hours a day from Monday-Friday, and earn about 2,000 RMB per month. I am satisfied with my job and it makes use of my education. I think I will stay here more than a year. I found my job through a friend, and I feel hopeful about my future.

David – I work in an industrial company in a medium sized city in Guangxi. I work six days a week for 8 hours a day and earn about 2,000 RMB per month. In the company I work as a foreign trade clerk, and make use of my English education. I will not stay here more than 1 year. I chose this job mainly because it was related to my major. I think my future is hopeful, but I hope it isn’t like this. My message to the readers is – Life Sucks.

Peter- I work in a public middle school in my hometown in Guangxi. I work from 8-11 in the morning and from 2:30-4:30 in the afternoon five days a week. I earn about 1,500 RMB per month. I am not really satisfied with my job because the salary is below average. My university education seems to have been in vain, and I would like to add that high school was more useful for me. I am going to change my job as soon as I am ready, but that might take more than a year. I took this job to care for my family while my brother works outside the city. I mostly chose this job because my parents wanted me to. Even though I am not satisfied with my job, I feel hopeful because I won’t stay here too long. My message to you is this – No pain, no gain. It’s better to work hard and be patient than angry.

Feng- I work in a primary school in Liuzhou, Guangxi 35 hours a week, and earn about 1,500 RMB per month. I never feel satisfied with my work. I found that my major is useful for my job, but I don’t plan to stay at this job for more than 1 year. I chose this job because it was the best fit for my major. I am not hopeful about my future. I want all of you to know that everything is getting more expensive…

Emma- I work 36 hours a week for an educational company in my hometown where I make 1,500 RMB per month. I would say I am somewhat satisfied with my work. My education doesn’t seem to be useful in my job. I might stay longer than a year here. I chose this job for its teaching content. I am hopeful about the future.

Lucy- I work in a primary school in the countryside 20 hours a week. I earn about 1,900 RMB per month. I am not satisfied with my job, but I plan on staying here more than 1 year. My education seems to be useful for my work. I chose this job because I wanted to be a teacher. I am hopeful because if I work hard enough, I can become a middle school or high school teacher. I’d like to add that I hope they’ll lessen the hours of work.

Lili- I work at a private school at the moment. I earn little money each month because the students did badly in the exam and so my salary was cut. To my great anger, we have to work for 12 hours each day. I am not satisfied with my job. I want to quit.

Sophia- I work in a private middle school 30 hours a week in a town south of Guilin. I am not satisfied with my work. Some of my university education was useful. I don’t plan on staying here more than 1 year. I got this job with the help of my friends. Of course I am hopeful about the future. I’d like to add that I’d really like to find a better job.

Hillary- I work in an international watch company in Shenzhen. I got this job by attending an interview at the Shenzhen Convention and Exhibition Center. I earned 2,000 RMB for the first three months then it was increased to 2,500 RMB each month. I work from Monday to Friday, 8 hours every day. I am satisfied with the working atmosphere. Most of the colleagues are as young as me, and they can speak Japanese fluently, so we enjoy working and talking with each other.

But, as to the salary, I am not so satisfied. 2,000 RMB could only support my daily life. I have no money left to send back to my parents. (In Shenzhen, even a cleaner could earn about 3,000 RMB per month). It sometimes really makes me feel embarrassed. In China, the reason why many parents, especially farmers, strive to support their children to get a university education is that they believe university education could make sure their children find a satisfactory job and earn much more money.

My English major was just a little useful. So in my work, what I learned in university is nothing but a communicating tool, that means there are so many other skills or abilities that I need to study to do the job better.

I’m not sure if I will stay in this company for more than a year. If later I find the company is organized scientifically and I could get a higher position if I really work hard, I will stay; if not, I will leave after I get more working experience in this field, and then find a better job.

Actually, yes! I am hopeful about the future. I believe I will be a good English teacher and help many students study English. (Tom’s note: since replying to my first questions, Hillary quit her job at the watch company and returned home to study for a master’s degree.)

I would like to tell Tom’s readers that –

(No.1) What we learn from primary school to university should be changed. In fact, most of what we learned does not help us in our jobs! I mean we should learn history, geography etc. of course. But we need to learn more useful skills and abilities that we need in our work and life, like how to solve problems in daily life and work, how to use computer efficiently, and so on. What’s more, I think the best teaching method is to teach in a practical way, teachers and educational organizations should create more realistic teaching methods. Thinking back to my time as a student, most of the time my classmates and I learned by reciting information again and again, not really understanding what it was for, or why we were learning it. (I think this situation happens more in rural schools.)

(No.2) We should pay more attention to inheriting and carrying forward our own rich culture, especially our folk culture. Instead of paying attention only to western culture. Our culture is as important and valuable as others.

(Tom’s note: This student has also written to tell me that she hopes China will learn more from the west about how to implement democratic reforms.)

Tomorrow we’ll be taking a closer look at what these 9 students show us about life in modern China.

8 responses to “The lives of recent Chinese graduates – Does a university degree bring a better life?”

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  2. Those responses are more than instructive and worth their weight in gold. They match the sentiments and experiences of most mainlanders who have applied for job positions with me. Having said that, I should also like to say roughly about half our own Hongkongers have roughly the same responses (and the other half are basically different, let’s put it at that).

  3. lostnchina says:

    First of all, I’m struck by the low wages where you’re at, versus what I’m paying my employees here. But even then, sentiments are pretty much the same for the future. My younger employees are of course concerned about rising costs and ability to afford a home, etc. Managerial employees look further, into the future of China and the stability of the economy vs. social change, etc. Some have told me outright China has no future on the world scale…which is very different from people outside of China think.

    Great post idea for exploring this topic!

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  5. Pudding says:

    I don’t want to throw a wrench in this. These are very good examples of what is going on at local companies. However, at least in my experiences, I don’t think anyone is happy. I have never heard a response similar to Kate’s.

    Everyone I ever talk to, or anyone brings up the topic of wages, always and I mean always says they are too low. I don’t know what it is. Perhaps, they are low. But that would mean that everyone’s wage is low. Much more realistic I think is that, it’s normal and perhaps, even encouraged to say your salary is low. So, while I think that maybe 2K is low, I also think it’s average. It’s what we pay, it’s what everyone else I know makes all around China, and it seems to be what in the news. So I personally take it with a grain of salt when someone says they make 2K and it’s low. I know it’s hard to live on that, but I also know that it’s around average. There are other factors to take into consideration. I know that, 2K just seems to be a number I hear an awful lot.

    I really feel for the younger generation. It’s a unique situation for sure. I can’t even afford a house in my current city. I don’t know how they are going to do it, much less a car, and support a family. But if the average is X, you can’t expect more than that if you have nothing to offer. And that applies to all of us.

    The promise of education is a fragile one. As a society you want to educate everyone. What happens when everyone is already educated. It becomes average and you can only expect an average wage as such.

  6. Bill Rich says:

    Did they learn how to learn and how to tell what’s real and what’s suspicious in university ? If they did, that’s what they can use the rest of their life.

  7. Pudding says:

    Part of me says that if they just applied half of the time and energy that they do to watching Korean soaps, stealing plants, and playing computer games that they could make a better life for themselves.

    But then I remember what kind of system this is and most of the time the work I do is for nothing for some reason or another. So why do it.. And around we go.

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