Academic disciplines that don’t lead to jobs face the axe

Academic disciplines in colleges and universities will be suspended if they fail to lead to “sufficient numbers of graduates finding employment or entering further studies”, education authorities in China’s eastern Anhui province have ruled, with other provincial authorities expected to make similar announcements as youth unemployment in China reaches record levels.

China’s urban unemployment rate for young people aged 16-24 reached a record 19.9% in July, according to official statistics, despite national government subsidies and a raft of local measures to encourage companies to hire new graduates as well as increases in quotas for postgraduate study.

It has also led to changes in the way students entering higher education choose their degree subject, with more opting for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) disciplines.

This year, the number of new university graduates reached an all-time high of more than 10.75 million – 1.67 million more than the previous year.

Disciplines in which less than 60% of graduates enter employment or continue education for three consecutive years could be suspended or even revoked, according to a guideline released by the Anhui provincial government in mid-July.

Anhui University, in the provincial capital Hefei, has already culled 12 academic disciplines considered to be of “low societal need” and suspended four more believed to have “insufficiently distinctive characteristics”, according to Kuang Guangli, president of the university, quoted in official media.

Anhui officials referred to an “early warning list” of disciplines without naming them. However, a report on supply and demand of undergraduate disciplines in the province’s universities and colleges in 2021 found that law, international finance, information engineering and some others were a “bright red light” in terms of employment prospects.

The report noted the initial employment rates of “red light” disciplines included a 58.89% employment rate for law, 54% for information engineering, 50% for trade and economics, Arabic and international finance graduates, 44% for English translation and 33% for rural finance – all of them below the 60% threshold.

Borderline subjects just above the 60% employment threshold included insurance, applied statistics, taxation, arts and crafts, Korean, investment psychology, accounting, Chinese language and literature, and broadcast media.

Nonetheless, the notice also said it was necessary to “protect and develop” less in-demand subjects such as traditional Chinese medicine, tribal sciences particularly relating to the province’s Hui minority, archaeology, poetry, opera, as well as “intangible cultural heritage and other unpopular disciplines with important cultural value and heritage significance”.

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