China sees boost in postgraduate studies in the face of tougher job market
Students wait in lines for the national postgraduate entrance exam at Renmin University of China in Beijing, China, December 26, 2020. /CFP

Students wait in lines for the national postgraduate entrance exam at Renmin University of China in Beijing, China, December 26, 2020. /CFP

A record 3.77 million applicants are expected to attend China's 2021 national postgraduate entrance examination from Saturday to Monday, with an increased number of 360,000 over the previous year, according to the Ministry of Education.

That marks another high record, a year-on-year increase of 10.6 percent of the applicants for postgraduate entrance examination. The number has increased more than 1.7 million over the past five years from 2.01 million in 2017 to 2.38 million in 2018, 2.9 million in 2019, and 3.41 million this year, according to the ministry.

While the number of applicants has increased significantly, the increase in enrollment, in recent years, has been slower. Last year, 811,000 examinees were successfully enrolled, up from 762,000 in 2018 and 722,000 in 2017, the ministry said. The mismatch in growth rates of applicants and enrollees intensified the competition. The overall student enrollment rate has dropped from 36 percent in 2017 to 32 percent in 2018 and 28 percent last year.

The strictest epidemic containment measures

Although the number of people participating in the postgraduate entrance examination in 2020 is only about one-third of the number of this year's college entrance examination (Gaokao), the three-day examination has far greater cross-regional mobility than the college entrance examination.

Considering the recent sporadic outbreak of newly confirmed cases of the COVID-19 in several areas, the risk of the epidemic infection still draws attention.

On Thursday, the Ministry of Education asked all local educational authorities to deploy the strictest containment measures for this examination and pointed out that personnel protection should be strengthened.

Test-takers in high- or medium-risk areas and those with symptoms of illness who are asked to take the exams in isolation rooms should strictly wear masks throughout the whole process. In contrast, participants from low-risk areas should wear masks before they enter the rooms. They can decide whether to continue wearing them after entering the examination room, the ministry said.

Test-takers and the staff should use quick-drying hand disinfectant to wash their hands before entering the test room. All exam centers and test papers should be thoroughly disinfected, and a proper social distance must be kept from each other, it said.

Test-takers in Beijing are asked to provide a negative coronavirus nucleic acid test report within seven days before the test.

Why are more applicants?

With a record 9.09 million university students expected to graduate next year, a survey by the education website published recently found that the main reasons for domestic postgraduate studies' increase are good employment prospects and growing competition in the job market.

When asked about the reasons for pursuing a master's degree, 52 percent of respondents said they hoped to improve their overall capability, 51.3 percent said they wanted to strengthen their competitiveness in the job market, and 50 percent said it would give them a chance to study at a better university.

"In order to enhance their employment competitiveness, college students try to improve their academic qualifications as much as possible. Although the level of academic qualifications does not significantly improve the increase in professional ability," said Chu Zhaohui, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Educational Sciences. "Employers usually attach great importance to academic qualifications," he added.

However, in Chu's view, there are also problems behind the "postgraduate entrance examination fever". Although a high degree of education can bring advantages to students, this comparative advantage will cost a lot of time and opportunity.

"Applicants should make rational choices based on their own conditions and career plans and should not blindly follow the crowd," he said.

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