A university’s decision to set up a course for students to excel in China’s highly competitive civil service exam has stirred up discussions over whether such academic programs are fueling the craze for public sector jobs in the wake of the youth unemployment crisis.
In an announcement Friday, the Southwest University in the southwestern municipality of Chongqing said it was offering a one-year “micro-major” for undergraduate students that include subjects such as history, philosophy, psychology, and communication. The school said the program was “built in alignment with the core knowledge needed in selecting civil servants and other administrative personnel specializing in public affairs.”
With unemployment at its highest and a wider economic downturn due to the pandemic, positions in the public sector — known as bianzhi in Chinese — which come with cushy benefits and job security have become more appealing to young jobseekers. Official data showed that a record 1.5 million people sat for this year’s national civil service exam despite there only being 37,000 vacancies.
“The trend has been totally reversed within the past decades, as people used to opt for a job at an enterprise, thinking they can earn big bucks when the economy is good overall,” a 26-year-old aspiring teacher, surnamed Li, who has taken the national exam, told Sixth Tone.
The surging appetite for public sector jobs has given rise to a booming private tutoring service, which has expanded from 8.6 billion yuan in 2016 to 26.6 billion yuan in 2021, industry data showed.
Now, schools like Southwest University are making efforts to give potential examinees a competitive advantage in their preparation for the civil service exam. The university’s 24-credit program costs 80 yuan per credit ($12) and is a non-degree program, which means the students only receive a certificate for finishing the course.
“The program comes solely as a response to the students’ needs and doesn’t point in a particular direction,” Wang Tianding, a public affairs commentator, wrote in a media commentary Sunday, also adding that the program should place more of an emphasis on learning rather than just passing the exam.
Southwest University’s new program also garnered discussion on social media, with a related hashtag topping the trending list on microblogging platform Weibo on Saturday. While some users raised doubts over the program’s employment-oriented philosophy, others criticized the excessive worship of public sector jobs.
“Nowadays, being a civil servant gives you a kind of social benefit and that’s why it has increased in popularity,” a Weibo user wrote.
But others have praised the university for offering an affordable tuition compared with private tutoring agencies and a chance to learn as well. A survey showed the average cost for a prep course at a private center cost more than 6,600 yuan.
Li, who opted for the public sector after the crackdown on the private tutoring industry but failed, however, said she didn’t support the new course.
“The craze only proves how fierce the competition is, and it doesn’t prove that it’s a good option,” Li said. “But hopefully more regulations will come in for improving the job environment.”
Editor: Bibek Bhandari.
(Header image: Students wait to take the civil service exam at a test center in Tai’an, Shandong province, Feb. 25, 2023. VCG)