If a nation’s readiness to plug into the global economy is gauged by how many of its college students are studying international business, China must be the world champion.
Next year, there will be more than 100,000 college graduates, or around 2.5 per cent of the nation’s total, majoring in business management, international trade and economics.
But at a time when many new graduates are having a hard time finding jobs in these fields, some educators are wondering whether it’s really necessary to have so many young people studying international business.
And if not, then what subjects should they choose or, as the practice in most cases, should parents be choosing for their children?
Chen Xi, 18, is among those who sat for the national college entrance exam in early June; and her parents want her to major in international trade, even though she hardly has any idea what it entails.
For years, majors such as international trade, business administration and economics have been popular among senior middle school graduates and their parents.
Most of them were attracted to those majors based on a vague notion that job prospects are more lucrative than others, though reality upon graduation can be vastly different from expectation.
In fact, according to an online survey conducted in June by China Youth Daily and the Internet portal Sina.com, 4,600 respondents rated Chinese, international politics, law, business, computer science and economics as the top fields where graduates face the toughest job market. Quite often, these students end up getting jobs that have nothing to do with their majors.
When Xu Wenjing entered Xi’an International Studies University to study international trade, she thought she was lucky. But when she left college in 2001, she could not get a satisfactory job offer that matched her major and started a career as an English teacher.
"Companies only recruit people with experience," Xu said. "A new college graduate can hardly be part of that game."
The strange phenomenon is that though parents know there are not enough jobs for business graduates, they still push their children into those majors.
In another survey on the same website that asked 91,882 college students about their majors, economics came in second behind Chinese, while business administration was third.
"Nowadays, most people are very pragmatic, said Yin Bihui, a teacher at the Beijing Foreign Language (middle) School. "The whole society around them is focusing on developing the economy, so most university students are thinking about how to make more money."
But now the impractical choices are causing some embarrassment, educators say.
Xiong Bingqi, a professor at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, told China Youth Daily: "Many pick the ones that, at first glance, are popular ones. What they don’t realize is that social needs determine whether a major is useful or not."
Zhuang Youming, head of the admission office at Jinan University in Guangzhou told Guangzhou Daily that some students and their parents were "chasing majors like fans chasing pop music stars."
Another problem is that the universities teaching the "hot" majors are sacrificing quality for quantity, said Xiong, and "the quality of the large number of graduates has been falling short of the market’s needs."
It is not that students are unaware of the problem. Ran Xudong, a marketing major student at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing, complained that businesses graduates need to gain practical experience, but most of the courses were "too vague and general."
So, Xiong suggested, it might be time for senior middle school students and parents to start thinking about how to choose a major more wisely.
"Don’t be swayed by what seems popular," he said. "Selecting a major should be based on students’ interests and future social needs."
Huang Xinwei, a student at Tsinghua University, said he chose to study chemical engineering because he believes that every nation needs to develop its energy resources. The industry is vital to the country, and chemical engineering graduates are now in high demand.
"But you can’t be certain that a wonderful job will be waiting for you after you graduate," he said.
His advice: "First, the major you choose should be in the range of your interests. It might not be your favourite one, but certainly not something in a totally different area like, say, you like maths but choose law. That will be a disaster."
Yu Xiaolong, headmaster of the Beijing Foreign Language School, said: "A wrong major is not only a tragedy for the teenager but also a waste of the nation’s human resources."