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Little hope in sight for China’s university graduates

China’s double-digit growth rate during the financial crisis has been the envy of the world. And yet, many Chinese are still not reaping the rewards of the economic boom. That includes millions of graduates entering the workforce each year.

­They are becoming part of a phenomenon called “ant tribes”.

Hot on the heels of China’s economic boom, the country’s cities are expanding at a seemingly unstoppable pace, as people look to leave their poor rural backgrounds behind, in search of the Chinese economic miracle.

And one of the largest groups of people currently moving in to China’s cities is that of university graduates. However, many are arriving to find their degrees are all but worthless, and the streets are paved with anything but gold.

Graduates in one of Beijing’s campuses visited by RT often end up living in the most basic and squalid of conditions, forced to do menial jobs. Sociologists have dubbed them “ant tribes”, and there are thought to be more than 100,000 such graduates living in Beijing alone.

Yin Junqin is one such “ant”. He shares a 20-square-meter room with five other graduates, in a former workers’ dormitory in the north of Beijing. Washing and toilet facilities are shared, and there is nowhere for them to cook.

But it is not just the ants that are suffering.

“My parents and sister went through a lot of hardships to save the money that put me through university,” Yin Junqin, a graduate of Beijing Agricultural University, explains. “I studied hard and did part-time jobs to support myself. Now all I can find is unskilled part-time work, so I really feel like I’m letting them down.”

Part of the problem is that there are simply too many university graduates now entering the system. In 1998, when the government began to seriously look at expanding higher education, Chinese universities were producing 830,000 graduates a year. In 2010 that number was six million, and it is still growing.

“On the one hand, China’s universities were already in a weak state,” says Zhang Ming, a professor of Political Science at Renmin University. “We made them weaker with an over-rapid expansion, so the education received by many of today’s graduates has been very poor. On the other, we have a whole generation who are used to having everything done for them and cannot do anything for themselves. Who is going to give work to people like this?”

With reports of rioting taking place in some ant-tribe areas, the government is now looking to take action. Measures being discussed include limiting residence permits to skilled professionals, and introducing electronic ID cards for outsiders without a stable job.

However, with the number of graduates entering the workforce set to continue rising, there seems little hope in sight for China’s ant tribes.