For many of the country's hundreds of thousands of graduates, a master's degree is a much more attractive option than immediate job hunting. In 2004, 1.17 million registered for this year's national postgraduate examination, which includes compulsory tests in politics, English and mathematics.
The Ministry of Education announced the national qualifying mark for the final round of examinations in all majors at the end of last month. Last week, Beijing Institute of Technology completed its final round of examinations for 2005's postgraduate enrollment.
For those who failed the last round, there was little time to reflect - many of them started anew for the 2006 enrollment straightaway. Campus bulletin boards were flooded with advertisements for training courses, and bookstores are furnishing their shelves with next year's versions of textbooks and guidance materials.
Textbooks, guidance materials and training courses together comprise an annual business worth billions of yuan, and this does not include the money students spend on food and lodging.
One student from the University of International Business and Economics said he had spent over 1,500 yuan (US$181) on guidance materials for the postgraduate examination in two years' time. For a book on English vocabulary, complete with cassettes, the price is over 50 yuan (US$6). A comprehensive politics guidance book compiled by a specialist is priced at about 60 yuan (US$7). Usually, guidance books for English and politics are multi-volume, costing from around 100 to 200 yuan (US$12-24).
Of course, textbooks and guidance materials are no guarantee of success in the enrollment examination. Most have to attend courses that cost hundreds of yuan. Nearly all famous training schools boast how accurately they can predict examination questions. One school says in its ads that its courses cover all questions that will appear in the test.
Another student majoring in economics said that she spent a total of 1,650 yuan (US$200) on training courses - two on English, three on politics.
On average, a student will spend at least 2,000 yuan (US$240) a year on textbooks, guidance materials and training courses. For a provincial student who comes to Beijing to prepare for their postgraduate examination, there will also be the cost of a half year's rent and living expenditure, which often exceeds 10,000 yuan (US$1,200).
The sheer number of students who go for the postgraduate examination produces an enormously profitable market for booksellers, publishers and private training schools. People have already called this a "postgraduate examination industry," and it has been valued at 3 billion yuan (US$362 million) a year.
Experts say the immediate causes are rapid expansion of undergraduate enrollment and the increasingly high demand for diplomas by employers. Employment criteria can be too high or badly matched to the actual work of a job. Prospective employees also often feel they will need additional qualifications in order to progress and be promoted once they have secured a post.
The underlying problem, say experts, appears to be a gap between the current educational system and the changing demands of the labor market.
(China.org.cn by Wind Gu April 10, 2005)