Ureri Kurban, a 28-year-old Uygur man who graduated from Xinjiang’s Kashgar Normal College in 2007, calls his wife while on a train to Shenzhen, South China’s Guangdong province, on Thursday. ZHAO GE / XINHUA
URUMQI - A total of 22,000 jobless college graduates in Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, mostly ethnic Uygurs, are slated to receive at least one year of job training free of charge in universities and companies in China's developed regions in the next two years.
As a result of a massive employment program introduced by the autonomous region's government, posts in government departments and institutions, as well as in State-owned enterprises, will be offered to students who finish the training and return home. The program's goal, though, isn't necessarily to bring people back to Xinjiang; the students will also be encouraged to take jobs elsewhere.
The autonomous region's government estimates the program will cost 850 million yuan ($130 million).
Liu Xianglin, an official in charge of the program, said the participants are among some 60,000 educated young people - 80 percent of them Uygurs - who haven't been able to find stable jobs in Xinjiang, even years after being graduated from universities and polytechnic colleges.
Liu said those in that situation are often perceived as being rusty and, as a result, become less attractive to employers. Many find it difficult to compete in the job market with fresh graduates.
College graduates were once regarded as elites in China. But that was before the country started aggressively expanding university enrollment in the late 1990s. As the number of graduates rose, the increasing unemployment rate of "fallen elites" became an issue in cities across the country.
It is at its worse in Xinjiang, an underdeveloped and ethnically diverse region.
Xinjiang is home to 60,000 jobless college graduates. About 80 percent of them are members of ethnic groups such as the Uygur, Kazak, and Kyrgyz and 60 percent are women, according to statistics from the Xinjiang human resources and social security department.
"Unemployment among college graduates is not only a social problem but also an issue concerning Xinjiang's long-term stability and development," said Turwinjan Tursun, a researcher with the Academy of Social Sciences of Xinjiang. "Idle, jobless graduates are also a financial burden to their families."
Government statistics show that the unemployment rate in Xinjiang's urban areas hit 3.2 percent by the end of 2010.
Tursun said the innovative policy will go far to eliminate unemployment and the hardships suffered by those who lack work.
He said the current generation of Xinjiang youth is well-schooled and, with the proper training, will be able to seize the increasingly numerous opportunities that have been resulted from China's decision to boost the development of the autonomous region, which is blessed with an abundance of natural resources.
Last year, the central government vowed to help Xinjiang achieve "leap-frog development and lasting stability" in five years.
The plans adopted by the autonomous region's government call for hastening the development of cities, for building modern industries and for modernizing the practice of animal husbandry, among other things. The government's goal is to put the local per capita gross domestic product on par with China's average GDP by 2015.
Zhang Chunxian, who was appointed Xinjiang's top official a year ago, said the government has been paying great attention to the unemployment issue. He himself has received letters of complaint from distressed young graduates and their parents.
"The employment of college graduates is a major quality-of-life issue," said Zhang, who is Party chief of Xinjiang. "It concerns ethnic unity and the balance of economic development."
According to government figures, Xinjiang is home to about 70,000 new college graduates every year, about 80 percent of whom find jobs upon graduation.
Liu said the government expects the training to not only make young people better job candidates but also to open their eyes and broaden their minds.
He said the program is popular among the young, adding that even those who were graduated 10 years ago are taking part.
Ruzgul Aishan, a biology major graduated from Xinjiang's Kashgar Normal College in 2007, told China Daily that it is "depressingly difficult" to get a biology-related job in her hometown of Maigaiti, a remote, underdeveloped county in Kashgar prefecture.
"My hometown is a typical agricultural county," said the 27-year-old Uygur woman. "So I chose to study farm machinery in Shandong province. The knowledge I get there will be very useful for the development of my town.
"It's my first time to go outside Xinjiang and leave home for so long. I feel very excited to see the outside world."
Another 20 jobless college graduates from the county, a majority of them being women, will go to Rizhao, in Shandong province, to take internships in agro-technical stations, farm-machinery stations and other agriculture-related institutions.
"I hope these students can work as 'messengers' between the two places," said Arzgul Kadier, a tutor of Ruzgul's team. "They will learn about practical technologies and gain practical abilities from Shandong, and then show the best of Xinjiang to the people there."
Ureri Kurban, 28, is leaving for an internship in Shenzhen, an economic boomtown in South China's Guangdong province.
The graduate from Kashgar Normal College said that he thought the opportunity "was almost too good to be true."
Ureri Kurban did odd jobs and had a meager monthly income of 700 yuan before enrolling in the program. He said he cannot wait to set foot on seashores and in soccer stadiums, places he has never visited before.
"This may be the beginning of a happier life," Kurban said.
While observers eagerly await the early results of the program, some analysts say it is even more important to reform the college education system and to teach students practical knowledge that they can rely on to make a good living.
"Although the program seems to be the right solution for the moment, in the long run, the market, not the government, should work to make sure there are jobs for college graduates," said Li Xiaoxia, a researcher with the Academy of Social Sciences of Xinjiang.
Xinhua contributed to this story.
(China Daily 03/26/2011 page4)