The number of students expected to take part in tomorrow's national postgraduate entrance examination has dropped for the first time in a decade.
A student takes a nap in the library of Weifang University in Shandong province last week, while preparing for the three-day postgraduate entrance examination, which starts tomorrow. [China Daily]
The Ministry of Education (MOE) said Thursday that 1.2 million people have registered for the exam this year, down 6 percent on last year.
Education experts have attributed the decline to the falling number of employment opportunities for fresh graduates with master's degrees or doctorates.
"Social values have changed now as employers do not focus solely on educational qualifications but on real ability," Mao Zuhuan, a professor from the Beijing University of Science and Technology, said.
Jiang Baojin, CEO of a private company in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, said his company employs people who can provide the most benefits for the least expense.
"If an undergraduate and a graduate have similar experience we will choose the undergraduate to save money," Jiang said.
In addition, some colleges and universities have introduced a pilot reform that removes free education for some postgraduates.
Sichuan University, on the other hand, has said it will implement a scholarship scheme for postgraduate studies this year.
MOE spokesman Wang Xuming said people have previously "taken for granted" the idea that postgraduate students have brighter employment prospects than others.
"Large numbers of undergraduates chose postgraduate study to delay entering the fierce job market," he said.
However, many employers are now looking for people with more practical experience, he said.
Some universities have strengthened personal development counseling and employment guidance in recent years, asking students to learn more work-related skills before choosing further education.
Signs of a cooling down of attendance for the postgraduate entrance exam began to emerge last year when 1.28 million people registered, just 7,000 more than in 2006.
Students also now have more opportunities to continue their education abroad.
Du Ran, a third-year undergraduate studying at the Communication University of China, said: "The postgraduate entrance exam is too difficult and the competition is too fierce.
"So I am preparing to go to Hong Kong to study for my master's degree."