China's tutor ban adds to surge in PhDs competing for high school teaching jobs

A handout photo. Competition for teaching jobs in China has risen dramatically in recent years.
PHOTO: South China Morning Post

The revelation that most of the newly-hired teachers at a high school in China hold PhD degrees has triggered a national debate about the intensely competitive job market and the national obsession with higher academic qualifications.

Among the seven candidates for the final round of interviews for the position of biology teacher at the school, four have PhD degrees, said Gou Xiaoxue, a master's degree graduate from Beijing Normal University who was interviewed for the position last month, state broadcaster CCTV reported on Sunday (Oct 10).

"The competition is tough," Gou said. "I heard that for the chemistry teacher position, all the candidates are PhD holders."

The school, whose name was not revealed, hired four people to teach biology, three of whom have PhD degrees, according to Gou.

She added that some former teachers at private tutoring institutions laid off amid the authorities' crackdown on the industry in recent months, which has also increased the number of applicants and competition for teaching roles.

The report soon became a top searched news item on Weibo, with 130 million views. More than 14,000 comments were left on the original story post.

"I don't think the higher academic degree a person has, the better he teaches," one person wrote. "The important thing is whether these candidates are good at teaching students."

"It's hard to believe that they apply for the job because of a love for teaching. I think they are attracted by the salary offered by the school," another user commented.

"It's common for top schools in big cities to require job applicants to have higher degrees. I am in Xian [of Shaanxi province] and public primary schools here only hire graduates with bachelor's degrees or above from prestigious universities," another person said.

Until recently it was unusual for primary and middle schoolteachers in China to hold qualifications beyond a bachelor's degree.

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At the end of last year, it was revealed that the Shenzhen Nanshan Foreign Language School Group had hired 29 graduates from China's top two universities - Peking University and Tsinghua University - and 21 others from famous overseas schools including Columbia University in New York, the University of London and Hong Kong University.

Professor Ma Hemin from the Department of Education at East China Normal University said it is a "great thing" that more and more primary and high schools have hired teachers with high-level degrees.

"It's helpful for our country's education cause. It is definitely not a waste of talents," Ma told the South China Morning Post.

"Those graduates should then orient themselves as a teacher who loves students and loves to teach. What's more, they should leverage their highly educated background to inform their unique style of teaching to incubate students," he said.

Graduates with higher degrees chose to work in schools because of the stable nature of teaching jobs, said Wang Yixin, a senior consultant at recruitment website zhaopin.com.

"Being a teacher has become one of the 10 ideal jobs for young people," she told CCTV. "In the post-pandemic era, many people apply for teaching jobs for stability. Our platform shows that 40 per cent of users prefer stability to high income."

Graduates from universities across the country have increased year on year to 9.09 million this year.

Domestic media have reported that in recent years, university graduates have taken jobs that previous graduates would not have considered, such as household maids, real property agents, assembly line workers in factories, and pig farm workers.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.