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Chinese University Graduates Face Difficult Job Market

China has more than doubled university enrollment in the past 10 years, and educated job seekers are entering the labor force at a record rate. The government's goal was more skilled workers for the rapidly growing economy. But as Sam Beattie reports from Beijing, some economists are predicting that around one third of this year's five million university graduates may face unemployment.

Well before graduation, Beijing university students head to job fairs, to apply for positions and to gain valuable job hunting experience.

Hundreds of thousands of jobs are offered at these employment fairs, but competition is fierce because there are many more student applicants than jobs.

Official national unemployment rates in China hover around 4 percent, but outside experts says the true figure is closer to 10 percent. For university graduates, the problem is often finding a job they like with good pay and conditions.

Li Yan is one of the record five million university students expecting to graduate and enter the job market this year. With no brothers or sisters, she is a typical product of China's one-child policy and feels the pressure of finding a job.

She hopes she does not join the 1.2 million graduates who failed to find work in 2006.

"I really want to support my family," she said. "I am over 20 years old now. I need to work hard and make money for my family, to make them happy and their lives better."

Like many young Chinese, Li Yan did not have a part-time job in high school, and during university she only works at odd jobs when it suits her. Her parents cover all of her school expenses. In return, she will be expected to give around one quarter of her salary back to her parents once she enters the work force.

"My family has given me a lot, so I want to give a lot back to them," she said. "I am trying my best to make sure I am in a position so that I can give something back to my parents."

Having limited work experience makes the job search harder.

For a growing number of employers, good university grades are not enough. They want life experience as well.

Yang Chun Xiu is with China HR, a leading personnel-recruiting company. She says employers prefer candidates with two or three years' work experience to boost growing businesses.

"There are more and more graduates every year, but the graduates do not know where to position themselves in the job market. Most employers at the moment want people with experience, so it's harder for graduates to find a good job," she said.

Standard Chartered Bank's Chief Economist Stephen Green says the quality of China's education system is part of the problem. He says university graduates usually require 3 or 4 years of workplace training before they add value to their employers.

"You've got an education system that is not equipping students for the modern work place," he said. "Education is still a lot rote learning, exam based. It does not really create the kind of people who will succeed in a modern economy."

Wu Ni, a post-graduate student in communications at the Communications University of China, says she understands the difficulty of getting a good job.

"The odds of success going into the job fair are pretty slim," Wu said. "One thing is that they are inclined to hire the person with as much experience as possible, not the students fresh out of school. I see a lot of graduate students hunting for jobs like me. Then I'm not so confident. I can feel the ferocious competition among us."

Because of the gap between the number of university graduates and the number of attractive positions, some students are being forced to lower their expectations of the perfect job - or at least expect to work longer before they find it.