In China, waitresses earn more than science graduates

Starting salaries in China

Graduate salaries in China are very low. By contrast, walk past any restaurant window in Beijing and you’ll see a poster offering employment, a bed, meals and about ¥1400–¥2000 per month in exchange for your hard work as a waiter or waitress. This is a better deal than the average Chinese Science, Medicine or Agriculture student can expect after graduation.

The same study showed that those without a degree earn on average ¥1299 per month, while those with an undergraduate degree earned on average ¥1495. After accounting for tuition fees and four years of lost earnings, the difference is negligible.

The Chinese economy in now shows the simultaneously increasing symptoms of over-education and under-innovation. Millions of Bachelors’ and Masters’ graduates are unable to find suitable work, are unprepared for the workplace, or are unwilling to work for salaries they believe are too low.

Despite evidence that an undergraduate degree doesn’t pay dividends financially, my students giddily cite “to earn more money” as their key reason for pursuing higher education. I tell them the truth because they’re old enough to know better: you can either go to university for the sake of learning, or prepare to be disappointed.

I believe graduate salaries are so low because the graduates haven’t really learned anything in university. They’ve spent four years learning from dictionaries (and hating it), then doing multiple-choice tests to prove their ability. By the end, they know thousands of English words by heart but can’t speak or write a simple sentence. Because employers find these skills useless, I don’t teach from vocabulary books, use textbooks, or give multiple-choice tests. Rather, I teach them to read and write. Reading and writing, not learning dictionaries, will help them to get a job. It’s more interesting, too.

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