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Degrees of difficulty

2012-02-23 17:15 Global Times     Web Editor: Xu Rui comment
In Shanghai 178,000 college students will graduate this year, an increase of 3,000 over the previous year. [Photo: CFP]

In Shanghai 178,000 college students will graduate this year, an increase of 3,000 over the previous year. [Photo: CFP]

Finding employment is no longer just a problem for graduates and their families. It has become a big concern for the universities and colleges which have educated the graduates. Eighteen university and college courses have been placed on a warning list by the city's education authorities after it was revealed that the graduates of these courses are not so readily employable.

The subjects include art design, animation, advertising, radio and television editing and directing. Others on the warning list, which highlights the subjects where the graduates' employment rates have remained below average for three years, include social work, electronic information, food quality and safety, labor and social security.

"The warning list does not mean that the 18 subjects are no longer needed. The main reason they have been listed is that supply has exceeded demand. Another reason could be that the skills the graduates have attained in the courses are not the skills needed for the workforce," Fu Jianqin, the head of the Higher Education Department of the Shanghai Municipal Education Commission, told the Global Times.

The commission will cut student numbers for these courses at some colleges by 10 percent next year and will encourage modifications to the subjects, according to Fu.

The Global Times looks at three of these courses to see what has gone wrong.

Social work

Li Yuesu majored in social work at the Shanghai University of Political Science and Law and now works at an international community in Pudong New Area. She helps expats in the community with registration and offers counseling if they require it. Though her work is not indispensable, she is happy.

"I have a chance to learn about different cultures when I communicate with foreigners. My classmates who work in Chinese-only communities find their work more boring," Li said.

At university there were 30 students in her class. Five found work in communities, social work programs or with charities. Most of the graduates are working in sales or administration departments for companies in Shanghai. "These jobs require fewer skills. But they prefer these jobs to social work because of the status and career prospects," Li said.

Li graduated in 2010 and most of her classmates have found work. But those who graduated from the same course last year have not been so lucky. By the end of the year, the employment rate for social work graduates in the city was just over 56 percent, far below the 76 percent city average.

Wan Yinjie is a teacher from the Social and Public Administration School of East China University of Science and Technology and she supervises career guidance. She explained why the employment prospects for social workers were not encouraging. "Students from this course are usually employed as social workers in communities, or as human resources or administrative personnel in companies. The market demand for community social workers is quite limited but there is fierce competition for administrative posts in companies - these require comparatively few skills and attract many graduates with different majors."

She told the Global Times that there was an added difficulty for non-local students trying to get a job in neighborhood communities if they were not fluent in the Shanghai dialect, which was generally needed for this sort of work.

University courses in social work first emerged in Shanghai a decade ago when people became aware of the importance of the subject. Chen Hong, the head of Qingyi, a Shanghai non-governmental organization that provides training and recruitment information for social work graduates, said that the prospects for graduates are bright but not immediately - perhaps at some time in the future, in 10 years or so.

"We helped more than 500 graduates across the country find a job related to social work last year, a big increase compared with the previous year. But looking at the total number of our registered members, about 85,000, that is not many. Compared with other cities in the country, Shanghai plays a leading role in pushing social work to the fore. The city government pays social workers to help local communities settle disputes among residents and help hospitals solve conflicts between patients and doctors, among other tasks. Social workers in Shanghai can earn more than those outside the city, about 55,000 yuan ($8,732) a year, but this is not enough," said Chen. He said that the government should do more to improve public awareness of the importance of social work.

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