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Students Given Helping Hand to Start Businesses

Budding businesspeople are being given their first taste of working life in a shopping mall with a difference.

The majority of shopkeepers at Dacheng Mall are university students. It is part of a scheme to encourage the next generation of entrepreneurs.

It opened in October in Xianlin Universities Park in Nanjing, capital of east China's Jiangsu Province. More than half of the 120 shops in the mall are owned by students who study in nearby universities.

Provided with low rents and power supplies, Dacheng Mall is one of a range of initiatives to facilitate entrepreneurship in young people in the eastern China city.

Jiang Hongkong, mayor of Nanjing, said during a recent address at Southeast University (SEU) that 75 per cent of the city's university students wanted to set up their own business after graduation.

"But due to some economic or political obstacles, only 1 per cent of them actually carry out their dreams, so we get to do something to change the situation," said Jiang.

According to the mayor, several preferential policies in bank loans, special foundations and professional consultancies have been implemented by the Nanjing municipal government since September to help improve the situation.

"I hope to see another Bill Gates rising from you," said Jiang while addressing the SEU students.

Lu Jun, a fourth year student majoring in Public Administration in Nanjing Agriculture University (NAU), is one of those being targeted by the policies.

Due to graduate next June, Lu meets all the requirements set for the graduates' entrepreneurship loans by the municipal government.

Borrowing 30,000 yuan (US$3,750) from the government last month, Lu opened a fashion shop, Freedom, in Dacheng Mall.

According to Lu, with a daily sales turnover of 200 yuan (US$25), she expects to begin making profits by next May.

But she said she was more motivated by having the chance to begin a career rather than having profit.

"Making money is not the sole aim. The job market is so disappointing these days. I have to do something to get myself better prepared. Otherwise I will probably become jobless immediately after my graduation," said the 21-year-old.

Echoing Lu's decision, a national survey conducted by the Ministry of Education in May found that the reason for many students' entrepreneurial spirit was because of the fierce competition in the jobs market.

The survey found that 30 per cent of the country's university students hope to launch their own business after graduating.

While the number of university graduates tripled this year compared to 2002, there is no significant rise in job opportunities.

It is a situation made worse by the increasing number of laid-off workers waiting for re-employment, according to a report recently published by the Ministry of Education.

Nationwide, 3.4 million students graduated from universities this summer.

It is 600,000 up on the figure last year and almost three times higher than the 1.15 million in 2001. About a quarter of this year's graduates, however, would not find a job if they demanded high salaries and preferred to stay in big cities only, predicts the Ministry of Education.

"The increasing momentum of college graduates will continue for a few years to come," said Liu Dawei, a ministry official responsible for overseeing university student issues. "But there were only 9 million new jobs nationwide in 2005 - five million of which were reserved for laid-off workers from State factories."

Under these circumstances, governments at various levels are carrying out policies to try to increase employment opportunities for university graduates, including encouraging students' entrepreneurship.

According to a document issued by the State Administration for Industry and Commerce (SAIC) in 2003, graduates who begin their own private businesses will be exempt from registration fees and tax revenues for the first year.

Like Nanjing, several provinces and municipalities have also introduced low-interest loans to help those graduates looking to launch their own enterprises.

Meanwhile, experts are calling for courses on in entrepreneurship to be open on campuses in order to prepare students for the tough work market.

"The entrepreneurship education is definitely far from enough in Chinese schools and universities. We should acquaint our students with more market spirit and specific skills to run a business," said Wang Sheping, editor of the country's first book on students' entrepreneurship, which was published this October.

But he warned that students need to take a rational attitude toward establishing their own business.

"Running their own business takes more than just ambition and professional skills. They also should consider the social responsibilities," said Wang.

The case of Gao Zhijun serves as an example.

As a postgraduate student studying civil architecture in the Shanghai-based Tongji University, Gao postponed his study by one year to set up and run his own garbage-collecting business covering the four campuses of his university.

Gao told reporters that with a daily income of 1,000 yuan (US$250), the net profit of his company is expected to reach 300,000 yuan (US$38,000) this year.

"I will give back part of the profit to help some impoverished students in Tongji," said Gao during interviews with local media.

Gao currently hires five students who are from poor families to help him manage the business, which earns them each 800 yuan (US$100) per month.

But to some of Gao's classmates, his decision to put his career as an architectural designer on hold to collect garbage is unacceptable.

"His major will bring him a big fortune after graduation. It is so disgraceful for him to do garbage collecting, " said Wang Wei, also a student from Tongji.

But staff at the university's Bureau of Real Estate Management supported Gao's decision.

"Entrepreneurship should not be divided by what you are doing. We appreciate all the effort he has made. We consider him a smart boy to sense this big business opportunity," said Zhang Jingfang, who works at the bureau.

According to Shen Jie, a researcher in sociology with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, the trend of entrepreneurship reflects the changing attitudes of graduates towards employment.

"Under the previous planned economy, university graduates used to be elite of the society. They simply waited for the government to assign them jobs and they would get decent jobs and preferable pay right after graduation," said Shen.

However, with the higher education system undergoing reforms and becoming more and more market-oriented, now the university graduates have to join the market competition and create job opportunities for themselves, according to Shen.

(China Daily December 6, 2005)

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