Amid challenging economic headwinds, ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks and the record number of 10-million-plus college graduates entering the job market this year, many college graduates from well-known universities are opting for job stability by choosing to work for county-level governments.
The recent trend of students with master's and PhD degrees competing for jobs in counties and townships has sparked heated discussions on social media platforms recently as netizens questioned whether this is a waste of talent and education resources, while others said that a stable job is very important, given the current tough employment situation.
According to a recent notice issued by the Suichang county government in Zhejiang province, 23 of the 24 new recruits of the county government hold master's or doctoral degrees from top-tier universities such as Fudan University and Zhejiang University.
Meanwhile, Heping county in Guangdong province said that 810 graduates from well-known domestic and international universities applied for 82 jobs at county government bodies.
More than 700 of the applicants hold master's degrees and 31 are PhD candidates.
Experts said the enthusiasm for such jobs was mainly due to the tougher job market and economic uncertainty caused by COVID-19.
According to the National Bureau of Statistics, the surveyed urban unemployment rate reached 6.1 percent in April, while the government's target for this year is below 5.5 percent. In the same period, the surveyed unemployment rate for people age 16 to 24 reached 18.2 percent.
China is expected to have 10.76 million new college graduates this year, up 1.67 million from last year, according to the Ministry of Education.
Wang Hui, director of the Ministry of Education's department of college student affairs, said that the employment situation remains complicated and severe as the country's economic development continues to face international and domestic challenges, and the employment situation varies greatly among students according to majors, industries and regions.
During a national teleconference on stabilizing the fundamentals of the economy on Wednesday, Premier Li Keqiang asked for more measures to be taken to ensure economic growth and lower the unemployment rate in the second quarter.
A recent State Council executive meeting chaired by Li decided to implement 33 measures to maintain market and employment stability.
The Ministry of Education has asked university administrators to visit at least 100 enterprises by the end of August to expand employment opportunities for new graduates.
Local governments have also issued guidelines and action plans to boost employment. An action plan issued by the Guangdong provincial government calls for concerted efforts to ensure the employment rate among college graduates reaches more than 70 percent by July and more than 90 percent by the end of the year.
The uncertainty brought by COVID-19 outbreaks has also prompted more graduates to seek employment in the public sector.
Zhou Xinyue, a senior undergraduate student at Renmin University of China, said both she and her parents prefer jobs in the public sector due to their stability.
The 23-year-old has secured a job to work as public servant in a village in Suining, Sichuan province.
As a philosophy major, she said she felt that finding a job was harder this year, as there are fewer enterprises entering the campus to hire graduates, offering fewer job posts and lower salaries.
"I do not want to make a lot of money, so I chose to become a public servant at the grassroots level, which is less stressful and also promises great career development," she said.
The rapid development of China's higher education sector in recent years has also meant there are more graduates with higher degrees.
According to the Ministry of Education, from 2010 to 2020, the number of postgraduate enrollments more than doubled from 538,000 to 1.1 million.
Niu Fengrui, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said although there is a big increase in postgraduate student enrollment, there has been no significant increase in the number of job vacancies requiring top-notch research capabilities, leading many graduates with master's and doctoral degrees to seek employment in other sectors.
People with higher degrees would naturally prefer jobs with higher salaries, so when counties in more developed eastern regions can offer these, it is only natural for graduates to choose to work there, he told financial media outlet Yicai.
Suichang county in Zhejiang is offering a one-off subsidy of 300,000 yuan ($45,000) and 150,000 yuan in subsidies over a period of five years to graduates with master's degrees. For PhD candidates, the amount increases to a one-off subsidy of 500,000 yuan and a further 250,000 yuan over five years.
As a result, more graduates with master's degrees have started to work in counties, townships and even villages, where they can also make a difference, he added.
After his graduation in June, Lu Jian, a student from Beijing Jiaotong University, will start work as a public servant in a village in his hometown of Dazhou, Sichuan, with a prospective monthly salary of around 2,800 yuan.
"I was born and raised in the countryside. If I am unwilling to work in rural areas, who else will?" he said.
Although he has had offers－with much higher salaries－from companies in Beijing and Nanjing, Jiangsu province, the 26-year-old said he did not hesitate after he got the offer to work in his hometown.
There is no shortage of talent in China and underdeveloped regions in the nation's vast western regions are in greater need of graduates with higher degrees, he said.
Senior undergraduate student Huang Canran declined 10 offers from companies in big cities and chose to work as a civil servant in a village in the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region.
"I like living and working in villages. People there are very nice, and Guangxi villages are very beautiful," she said.
The information technology major from Beijing Jiaotong University said she can use what she has learned in college to help the villagers know more about the Internet and how to sell agricultural produce via e-commerce platforms.