English majors fall out of favor

09:20, August 19, 2010      

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Before 2002, graduating with a major in English almost guaranteed you immediate job offers.

Eight years later, it's almost impossible, even for masters graduates of English, to secure work.

Huang Haiting regards herself as one of the lucky ones. After graduating with a bachelor's degree in English from Xi'an University of Technology (XUT), Shaanxi Province in 2002, she was employed by Zhejiang Textile & Fashion College in Ningbo.

"When I finished, it was easy for graduates in English to find jobs, even though XUT was only a second tier university in Shaanxi at that time. Only graduates with overseas universities' masters and doctorate degrees can find employment with our college now," Huang, a 31-year-old lecturer told the Global Times.

Past prospects

With the opening up of China to the outside world, English began being used more widely, and it was a qualification welcomed by employers. Taking English as a major became the most popular choice in Chinese colleges.

"Graduates of English from our school were very popular among employers in 2004. Each had at least three offers,"said Ji Shoulei, a graduate from Shangqiu Normal University (SNU), a third-tier university in Henan Province.

"In 2005, when I graduated, looking for a job was still quite easy. No one was worried about it," Li added

Supply and demand

The healthy job market for English majors made people complacent, and few academics saw any risk in expanding the number of English degree level courses.

Between 2007 and 2009, English was ranked among the top eight majors for unemployment in China, according to the Chinese College Graduates' Employment Annual Report (2010), published by the Social Sciences Academic Press in June.

By 2006, graduates in English out of SNU were becoming concerned about the employment situation.

In 2007, half the English graduates out of SNU were unable to find jobs. A year later, the number further increased, according to Ji.

Feng Jianjun, an English graduate out of Beijing Technology and Business University in 2009, is still looking for a job related to his major.
"Finding a suitable job is more difficult than I expected. Graduates in English can't depend on their major for a living," Feng told the Global Times.

It's not only individuals suffering. The bleak job market has also affected universities.

"The situation is not so serious for graduates in English at our school, but their employment opportunities are not as good as five years ago," Wen Hui, a lecturer in English at the School of Foreign Languages at Shaanxi Normal University in Xi'an, told the Global Times.

The situation is similar at the Beijing Foreign Studies University, according to Zhang Xiaoyi, a lecturer in English at the School of English and International Studies.

Too many colleges have begun offering this major in the past five years, Zhang said.

"They were encouraged by the promising market for English majors, and so increased enrollment. The teaching quality in English was neglected," Zhang told the Global Times.

Multi-talent value

The ability of non-English majors to speak English well has also improved, Wen said. English education has been extended at kindergarten-level in most cities, meaning that by the time they graduate most students' English is good enough without having studied at degree level.

With their non-English major, they are much more marketable to employers, who now place high value on inter-disciplinary talent.

Though the future for English majors is not as bright as before, it doesn't mean the market is completely saturated with top-level English language talent.

The translation and interpretation industry still holds promise.
Speaking at a conference for the experts committee of the China Aptitude Test for Translators and Interpreters (CATTI) earlier this month, Guo Xiaoyong, vice president of China International Publishing Group, said that by the end of 2009 there were 19,520 translation and interpretation companies in China.

Source: Global Times(By Wen Ya)

(Editor:王寒露)

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