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Chinese rural students' college dream unshaken by financial crisis
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Despite frequent media reports of China's college grads struggling to find jobs, Yu Sai, a student in his last year in senior high school from Fenkou village of Chun'an County in China's eastern Zhejiang Province, will not waver at all in materializing his dream of college.

While most of his rural fellows were still enjoying their winter break, Yu returned to school this week and stayed up late every night to study.

"I want to go to college because academic degrees decide the starting point for job applications," he said.

His cheerleaders include his mother, Yu Xinfeng, who promised him she would try her best to finance his education if he gets accepted into college.

"With a college degree, whatever job he might land would be less backbreaking than land tilling," she said.

During the winter break, Yu's family was impressed by the news that 20 million migrant workers would be returning home early. They were not alarmed by news dismal predictions about the difficulty of college graduates finding a job.

"Failing to receive a college education, rural children would have to follow their parents to migrate into cities and take up low-end jobs. When the economy is bleak, such jobs are the first to be cut," Yu Xinfeng said.

In Chun'an county, where manufacturing has replaced agriculture as the biggest contributor to local production value, many farmers shared Yu's anxiety about their children's job future. There were regrets, as well.

Jiang Shedong, who lived in Zhangyao Village, half an hour's walk from Fenkou, wished his son had gone to college. He now works with a dying factory in Hangzhou and earns 2,000 yuan (about 292 U.S. dollars) a month.

"His pay is not bad. But it would be difficult for him to take his career to a higher level," Jiang said. "As he works for a small company, I always worried that he might lose job some day."

As the Chinese economy catches cold from the ailing world economy, many rural families are looking to long-term approaches in terms of their children's education -- choosing to be prudent with vocational schools.

In the past few years, however, when the economy registered double-digit growth and jobs were richer, attending a vocational school was a fast track from the countryside to the city for many rural young adults.

In Changsha Global Vocational Education Group, two-to-three years of training would guarantee a job in cities, as the school provided training to the orders of textile, architecture and machinery factories.

Students at the vocational school enjoyed tax exemptions and a government subsidy of about 1,500 yuan per person.

By contrast, the expenditure for college study would cost at least 10,000 yuan a year per person, with tuition, boarding and lodging included. The country's per capita net income for rural families, however, was only roughly 4,000 yuan a year.

"Farmers are very down-to-earth people. When college education fails to be well integrated with the market demand and costs more, vocational schools become a pretty good choice," said He Guangwen, chairman of the Global Vocational Education Group.

Official figures projecting the changing trend in college enrollment are not available. Guangzhou Daily cited expert estimates last week, saying that the proportion of rural students to undergraduates has declined from 30 percent in 1980s to 17.7 percent these years.

The government has responded to the unemployment issue by raising vocational training subsidies to rural migrant workers and offering internships college graduates.

Lu Yongmin, who teaches English and journalism in the Beijing-based Communications University of China, shared her thoughts on the college versus vocational school issue.

"Short-term vocational trainings are helpful in facilitating employment. But having more rural children get access to college education could elevate the country's overall competence, which is good to the nation's future," she said.

(Xinhua News Agency February 11, 2009)

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