Many Chinese students who pursued higher education abroad have returned home to find a bleak and competitive job market. With a record 11.6 million new domestic college graduates, soaring youth unemployment, and companies scaling back hiring post-pandemic, the odds are stacked against overseas grads.
According to recruitment site 51job Inc., more than 1.2 million Chinese studying overseas are expected to return home this year, breaking the previous record of nearly 1.05 million announced by the Ministry of Education for 2021. However, many of them are struggling to find employment that matches their qualifications and expectations.
Gan Ziping, who earned a degree in business administration from Meiji University in Japan, told Caixin that he had yet to find a job, even though he had sent out hundreds of copies of his résumé. “I don’t even have an interview now,” he said. Many of his peers are also unemployed, he said.
Employers prefer local talent and experience
One of the reasons why foreign degrees have lost their luster for Chinese graduates is that employers are more inclined to hire local talent with relevant experience and skills. According to a survey by Zhaopin, a leading online recruitment platform in China, 77% of employers said they preferred candidates with domestic degrees over those with overseas degrees.
Some employers said they were concerned about the quality and authenticity of foreign degrees, especially from less prestigious institutions. Others said they valued practical abilities and adaptability more than academic credentials.
Moreover, some overseas graduates may have unrealistic salary expectations and lack of understanding of the local market conditions. Zhang Jingjing, a human resources manager at a Beijing-based internet company, said she had interviewed several returnees who asked for high salaries but did not have the required skills or experience. “They think they are superior because they have studied abroad, but they are actually not,” she said.
More students opt for further education or entrepreneurship
Faced with the harsh reality of the job market, some overseas graduates have chosen to pursue further education or start their own businesses. According to the Ministry of Education, the number of returnees who enrolled in postgraduate programs in China increased by 38% in 2021 compared to 2020.
Liu Xinyu, who graduated from the University of Manchester in the UK with a master’s degree in media and communication, decided to apply for a PhD program in China after failing to find a satisfactory job. “I think it’s better to improve my academic level and wait for the economy to recover,” he said.
Meanwhile, some returnees have turned to entrepreneurship as a way to realize their potential and passion. Li Mengyao, who studied fashion design at the London College of Fashion, launched her own clothing brand after returning to China. “I think there are more opportunities and resources for young designers in China than in Europe,” she said. “I want to create something that reflects my own style and culture.”
Government and universities offer support and guidance
To help overseas graduates cope with the challenges of finding employment, the Chinese government and universities have rolled out various policies and measures. For example, the Ministry of Education has relaxed the admission requirements for returnees who want to pursue further education in China, and has expanded the quota for scholarships and grants.
In addition, some universities have set up special platforms and services to provide career guidance and information for returnees. For instance, Tsinghua University has established a “returnee talent pool” that connects graduates with potential employers and offers online and offline job fairs and workshops.
The government and universities have also encouraged overseas graduates to seek opportunities in emerging sectors and regions, such as the digital economy, green development, and the western and central parts of China. By doing so, they hope to leverage the talents and skills of returnees to boost the country’s innovation and development.