Four in 10 Chinese complain about the yawning gap between large investments in education and its returns, a recent nationwide survey has showed.
The Horizon Research Consultancy Group polled 3,355 residents aged 16 to 60 in both urban and rural areas, including seven metropolises such as Beijing and Shanghai.
The survey found that only 16 percent of respondents believed their investments on education gave good returns.
Those with higher education voiced greater disappointment at the quality of education received, the survey showed.
"Even with a master's degree, I failed to find a decent position in big companies," Mao Xin, a 26-year-old Beijing resident, told China Daily yesterday.
"My textbook knowledge gave no advantage whatsoever in the competition."
Mao had to lower his expectations and work for a small private company, with wages similar to what undergraduates got.
"I disappointed my parents, who gave me at least 30,000 yuan ($4,250) to attend a postgraduate management course in a key university for three years," Mao said.
People in the rural areas generally gave more positive feedback on the quality of education than those from the cities, the survey found.
"Our education has been focusing on an examination-oriented system," Huo Qingwen, the deputy director of language education testing service center under the Beijing Foreign Studies University, told China Daily yesterday.
"The survey result doesn't surprise me, as I had heard complaints not only from the students, but also from the teachers who have been asked to focus more about the exam-passing rate," Huo said.
The Ministry of Education has called on schools and universities to gradually phase out an exam-dominated education system, amid concerns that students pursue higher academic results rather than practical experience and competence.
"The job market is still hungry for talented staff, but many graduates are not competent because the posts require more practical experience and creative ability of workers," Huo added.
However, some educators argue against the view that the quality of education is disappointing many.
"At least the quality of education is not the fundamental reason causing the rise of unemployment in China," Hong Chengwen, a management professor at Beijing Normal University, told China Daily yesterday.
"Vacancies in the employment market have not caught the pace of economic development in recent years," Hong said.
Hong said a domino effect will follow if the government does not take more effective efforts to control the unemployment rate.
"People have great expectations for higher salaries when they invest more on education."
"A low employment rate will influence the desire of Chinese to pursue education, particularly among the groups who long for higher education," Hong said.
Hong's comments come even as the number of students expected to take part in the national postgraduate entrance examination this year has dropped for the first time in a decade, statistics from the Ministry of Education show.
It was reported that 1.2 million people across the country registered for the exam this year, down 6 percent from last year.
Vivian Guo, the chief executive officer of a private company in Beijing, said her company employs people who can contribute the most for the least expense.
Most university graduates prefer jobs in large cities, causing an imbalance in human resources between urban and rural areas, Hong said.
The graduates would get better job options if they chose to work at the grassroots level because of the government's preferential policies, including the waiving of tuition for those willing to work in the country's rural and western regions, he added.
About 580,000 graduates last year found county- or village-level jobs, and more than 550,000 got jobs in the central and western regions, Ministry of Education figures showed.
"Because many graduates focus only on jobs with high salaries and that are directly relevant to their specialties, they miss other good work opportunities," Kong Xiang, a Beijing graduate who works as an English teacher in a college located at a remote area in Yunnan province, said.
Financial costs are another factor in the education system that residents complain about.
The recent survey showed that education costs form one-quarter of an urban family's income, while it forms one-third of a rural family's income.
About 150 million primary and junior middle school students across the country have benefited from a tuition fee exemption for compulsory education since 2006, officials said.
At the same time, a number of schools violate rules, asking for "extra" money if some students want to enter them to take advantage of their seemingly better teaching environment, Sun said.
To address this issue, the government should help narrow the gap in the quality of education between schools, CPPCC member Tian Shulan, who is also an official of the Ministry of Education, said.