Over the past decade, China has invested significantly in higher education—and roughly quadrupled the number of students graduating college annually, to about 7 million. Unfortunately, demand for diploma-holders in China hasn’t kept pace, and the bleak job prospects of the class of 2013 are a frequent source of lament on Weibo, China’s Twitter. Even the state-run Global Times newspaper, usually known for patriotic boosterism, recently printed a depressing chart suggesting that the number of available new positions for graduates has actually been declining.
One institution is expanding its efforts to recruit college graduates: the People’s Liberation Army. The Beijing News has reported on a change in hiring policy that took effect on June 24. In addition to increased financial compensation, army recruits who have graduated from universities in Beijing will be eligible for permanent Beijing residence cards, called hukous, after they complete their tours of duty and find other jobs in the city. The sought-after hukou is required to purchase an apartment or send children to school in Beijing—in short, to set down permanent roots in the city. In recent years the government has been allocating fewer new hukous for private employers to grant employees in China’s over-crowded capital.
The PLA is aiming to upgrade the caliber of recruits. “Many of the skills and specialties that the PLA needs can only be obtained by attracting civilian college graduates,” says Andrew Scobell, an expert on China’s military at RAND. While joining the army has long been an appealing option for rural students with limited schooling or career choices, it’s been a hard sell among educated urbanites. “The PLA continues to have a tough time attracting well-educated recruits with skills the military needs,” says Scobell. “These new [hiring] policies underscore this ongoing challenge” and also “take advantage of the opportunities presented by the tougher job market for college graduates.”
Beijing is home to China’s leading universities, including Peking University and Tsinghua University—often dubbed the Harvard and MIT of China, respectively. Whether or not the PLA’s recruitment policy will be extended to students in other cities remains to be seen.