by Henrietta Wang
China is in a crisis of graduate unemployment - this year the nation will see over 4 million new graduates, yet there are only 1.6 million jobs will available for them - down 22 percent from the previous year. We buttonholed education minister Zhou Ji to get the lowdown on how graduate prospects are going to be returned to the up-and-up.
GR: Minister, graduate unemployment is rising at an alarming rate. What is the government doing about it?
ZJ: A very pertinent question. Firstly, the main thing is to realise that plans are well underway and soon everything will be under control, as was outlined in a recent policy document (NB: the document can be found online in English here - ed.). The facts are very simple and so is our response. There are too many graduates and not enough jobs, so we are putting a cap on the number of graduates.
ZJ: Yes! We are limiting the number of university enrollments per year, so that we don't have too many graduates. This solves the problem of graduate unemployment.
GR: But... doesn't that just mean that the people who would have been unemployed graduates will now just be unemployed non-graduates?
ZJ: Not quite. We prefer the term "surplus labour" to "unemployed". It's more accurate.
GR: How so?
ZJ: In most countries this situation is negative - and "unemployment" is a negative word. But we have "surplus labour", a positive state of affairs. This is because Chinese work is just so good that we have oodles in reserve, ready and waiting to serve the Chinese people and economy.
ZJ: Furthermore, by preventing millions of people from the benefits of higher education, we can reduce the chance that they will have unrealistic expectations of high wages or of being valued by the community.
GR: But why haven't you tried coming up with a plan that actually addresses the real problem?
ZJ: I'm sorry, I don't think I understand the question.
Zhou Ji has been Minister for Education since 2003. He is a native of Shanghai and attended Tsinghua University. He also obtained a doctorate from the same U.S. university as was attended by John Walsh, host of "America's Most Wanted".