The start of 2022 was marked by the launch of Lingnan University's new China and Regional Studies Webinar Series. The series, organised jointly by Lingnan and India’s Ahmedabad University, aims to tap into the topical issue of China-India relations, compare the experiences of the two countries in some significant areas, and identify potential fields for collaborative research.
Two distinct angles on the theme of youth aspirations were tackled in the first webinar, with presentations from Professor Mona Mehta, Associate Professor, School of Arts and Sciences, Ahmedabad University, and Professor Weiyan Xiong, Research Assistant Professor in Lingnan’s School of Graduate Studies.
Tackling the dispiriting mismatch between graduate numbers and employment opportunities
Prof Xiong began his address on the struggles faced by many of the nation’s non-elite students, who discover that there is often little correlation between their efforts and their prospects in the jobs market, by defining what the trending terms “involution” and “lying flat” mean.
The term involution was originally used to describe the phenomenon whereby greater input does not produce a proportionally greater output, Prof Xiong explained. However, he noted, its use has evolved. “It’s now used to describe irrational and unnecessary competition within an industry, and a system, especially education.”
While Prof Xiong defined lying flat as the feeling of burn out that has led, in the education sector, some students to decide to opt out of the relentless competition to work longer and harder.
One of the main roots of this problem lies in the massification of China’s higher education that has taken place since 1999. In that period, enrolment figures have increased severalfold to over 50 per cent of the eligible demographic, and the number of graduates by nine-fold, to over nine million in 2021. Many more, seemingly well-qualified, young people are, therefore, competing for a limited number of, what are seen as, desired positions in the jobs market.
While the Chinese government is promoting entrepreneurship, and vocational and application-oriented education, Prof Xiong pointed out that this move does pose a challenge to Chinese culture and society, which treasures research-oriented degrees.
Prof Xiong did have suggestions for tackling this and other aspects of the underlying problem, though. He said the definition of what constitutes success needed to be expanded at both the institutional and the individual student levels. He also recommended that young people get out of their comfort zones and prepare specifically for the careers they really wanted to pursue – while acknowledging that, currently, many young people don’t seem to know what they want to do. Finally, he said young people should accept they will need to become life-long learners.
In conclusion, Prof Xiong expressed the hope his presentation could help generate ideas for future research collaborations between Lingnan and Ahmedabad.