BEIJING: China will push a rising tide of university graduates to find work in the countryside and small firms after Premier Wen Jiabao warned yesterday that they face a 'grim' job market as a global slowdown seizes the economy.
He laid out broad policies to help higher education graduates who are struggling to find work because falling exports, factory closures and consumer gloom are deterring employers from taking them on.
'Faced with the spreading international financial crisis, our country's employment situation is extremely grim,' he told a meeting of the State Council, or Cabinet, www.gov.cn the government's official website, reported.
'We must make the employment of higher education graduates a priority.'
China has more than economic reasons to fear surging graduate unemployment, which is a potential political time bomb.
This year will mark the 20th anniversary of the crackdown on pro-democracy protests led by radicalised students. That has already galvanised the 'Charter 08' campaign demanding deep democratic reforms. Unsettling discontent could spread again as millions of graduates, who paid steeply for their education, look for work.
The government has encouraged more students to go to university as a way to boost skills and consumer spending, but at the end of last year, about one million of that year's graduates had not found work.
With some 6.1 million students leaving colleges and universities this year - about half a million more than last year - the labour authorities have repeatedly warned them not to be fussy.
Graduates would be encouraged to find jobs at the urban and rural 'grassroots' in poorer western regions and in small and medium-sized businesses, Mr Wen said.
Bigger employers and research projects would also be encouraged to absorb them.
Desperate graduates are clamouring to find posts as nannies and domestic helpers for the rich in the southern province of Guangdong, China's export heartland, the Guangzhou Daily reported yesterday.
There have been 500 or 600 applicants every month, with more than 90 per cent of them university students, the newspaper quoted a housekeeping recruitment agent as saying.
But only 300 out of 2,000 students had landed jobs over the past few months, as slowing growth had seen companies go bankrupt and foreign businessmen desert the province in droves, the agency said.
Political scientist Paul Harris from Hong Kong's Lingnan University said the worsening economy was potentially explosive for China's leaders, who for years have been able to use rising prosperity to help offset deep social tensions about many injustices.
'The government has a long history of being able to deal with protest,' he said. 'But the big question is if it (protest) will become genuinely widespread, and that can only come from economic issues.'