Shanghai top spot for graduates

Visitors take a photo in Shanghai's financial district on the Bund.

CHINA - Shanghai has eclipsed Beijing as the No 1 place of employment for Chinese university graduates, a recent survey concludes.

The report was released by the career consulting company Universum earlier this month. It polled more than 51,000 soon-to-graduate students from 103 universities across the country to discover their career expectations and preferences and how they perceive employers.

Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, the best known economic engines for China's development, unsurprisingly remained the top three destinations for aspiring graduates.

But Shanghai replaced Beijing at the top spot.

"Shanghai occupies a pivotal position in China's economy, and also has more job opportunities. That attracts more talent here," said Wen Jun, director of the Institute of Sociology at East China Normal University.

"A series of proactive policies, such as the establishment of the Free Trade Zone, makes the city more promising and appealing."

A local university teacher who declined to be named agreed: "Beijing has long been chosen by graduates as the top destination for employment because of its status as the capital and its large development opportunities. But in recent years, the high living cost and bad air have made many graduates give up on it."

Many students are in the same camp. "I prefer to stay in Shanghai and look for a suitable job here, though my hometown is closer to Beijing," said a business major from Shanghai University of International Business and Economics, who identified herself as Li.

"Compared with Beijing, I think Shanghai is a more open and energetic city. Its relatively effective and ordered city management, and its living and working environment attract me a lot," she said.

Experts said the difficulty of getting a Beijing hukou, or permanent residency permit, is another big reason the capital is no longer in first place.

Shanghai has introduced a more flexible policy regarding residency to draw talent. The policy widens the space for individual progress in the city, Wen said.

According to the Universum report, the average expected monthly salary for a university graduate is 6,564 yuan (S$1,331), down 2.9 per cent from 2013.

The top five attributes of employers, according to students, are good reference for a future career, a competitive base salary, high future earnings, a clear path for advancement and professional training and development.

Graduates in other countries put more emphasis on an employer's culture and on interpersonal relationships while China's university graduates pay more attention to salary and development opportunities. As China's economic development slows, concerns over shrinking job opportunities have increased among graduating students. They have become more analytical about their salary expectations, Wu Gang, vice-president of Universum's Asia-Pacific region, said.

When talking about the years of work with their employer upon graduation, 58 per cent said they expected to work for two to three years. About 25 per cent said they expected to work for five years or more.

The top three career goals for students are: work and life balance, to be secure or stable and to be independent, it said.

The report also found that with the arrival of the Internet era, some home-grown Internet companies such as Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu have become more popular with graduating students.

A record 7.27 million students will graduate in June from China's universities, almost equal to the population of Switzerland, official government statistics say. That tops last year's record of 6.99 million.

Beyond that, a large number of Chinese students are expected to return from overseas studies, which will intensify competition for jobs this year, officials said.