International News

China: Poor management of contradictions

China is becoming increasingly worried about the rising number of students taking journalism and communications courses when it is impossible for all the graduates to find work in a strictly controlled media job market. Career prospects are bleak even for those who have studied at the School of Journalism at Shanghai’s prestigious Fudan University, which pioneered the study of journalism in China way back in 1929 and is widely recognised as “the cradle of China’s journalists”. Of its 110 undergraduate students, only 22 eventually found jobs in media companies in 2007 — a historical low. About half the students were forced to find work outside the media sector.

Fudan is not an isolated case. According to surveys by the ministry of education’s steering committee for journalism education (SCJE), only about 30 percent of graduates of Renmin University’s equally well-regarded journalism and communications school in Beijing found work in the media.

Why are there so many graduates when there are so few jobs for them in the media? Most people put it down to the expansion of numbers entering higher education in general and the boom of journalism and communications programmes since the end of the 1990s. In the 1980s, China had only seven programmes in journalism and communications, and at least 90 percent of graduates from Fudan and Renmin found work in the media.

Between 1999 and 2006, however, China’s universities and colleges dramatically increased the enrollment of undergraduate students — from 1.08 million to 5.05 million. Over the same period, the number of journalism and communications programmes skyrocketed from 88 to 661. In 2002 alone, 224 new courses were offered.

In 1999 there were only 9,000 students majoring in journalism and communications. By 2005, there were 120,000 media students and 30,000 graduates entering the job market. In Shanghai, five new journalism and communications programmes were approved in 2004, and in 2007 there were 4,500 undergraduate students pursuing 13 programmes of study.

Even though Shanghai has one of the densest concentrations of media in China, the number of journalism students churned out every year far exceeds the needs of the industry. A few years ago, the Shanghai Media Group which includes television and radio broadcasting, news gathering and internet publishing, received more than 20,000 online job applications for fewer than 200 vacancies. The deluge of responses paralysed the company’s computer network.

At a national level, only 180,000 reporters and editors were licenced by the Central Administration of Press and Publications of the People’s Republic of China (CAPP) by the end of 2006. These journalists run some 2,200 newspapers, 8,000 magazines and 1,000 broadcasting stations.

In the next three to five years, CAPP intends to strictly control the growth of the media industry while streamlining its structure and improving its efficiency. Consequently, there will be little if any need for a new generation of media professionals. Quite evidently in the centrally controlled Chinese economy, somebody up there forgot that within a society in which media growth is strictly controlled, the supply of journalists should also be controlled commensurately.

(Excerpted and adapted from Times Higher Education Supplement )