According to a poll by MyCOS, a Beijing-based company that tracks data on higher education, nearly three-quarters of students said they would be unable to pay for course materials without more support.

The poll also revealed a cost of learning crisis as four in 10 (42%) say they cannot make it to campus or are being forced to travel less, and 41% neglect their health to save money. Nine in 10 (92%) say the crisis affects their mental health, with 31% saying rising costs have a “major” impact. Only a fifth of students say they have received government support, and only 8% said they felt ministers understood the true extent of the problem.


The survey’s release comes as the Chinese government faces increased pressure to address the country’s yawning income inequality and ballooning education costs. College tuition has risen much faster than inflation in recent years, while entry-level salaries have stagnated.


The average graduate in China now owes about $5,900 in student loans, according to a report released earlier this year by Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business and Peking University. That’s up from about $3,500 in 2010.


At the same time, a glut of new graduates has made it harder for young people to find jobs. The official unemployment rate for urban residents ages 20 to 24 was 12.5% in 2016, nearly double the rate for all urban residents. The real number is likely higher, as the government only counts people who actively seek work as unemployed.


The situation has led to growing despair among China’s youth. In 2016, the country had more than 300 million people ages 14 to 24, making it the world’s largest population of young people. By 2030, that number is expected to increase to 350 million.


With jobs scarce and incomes low, many young Chinese are putting off major life milestones such as getting married and having children. The number of births in China fell for the second consecutive year in 2017, even as the government relaxed its decades-long one-child policy.

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The MyCOS poll surveyed 3,036 students from 33 Chinese cities. It was conducted online with a margin of error of plus or minus two percentage points.


As China’s once-booming economy continues to sputter, its vast army of college graduates finds it increasingly difficult to find good jobs. And that is leading many of them to dream small, cutting back expectations as they enter a weak job market.


The country’s top education authority warned as early as December that these graduates would have to face challenges finding jobs. Things got even worse when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, dealing a severe blow to businesses and resulting in widespread layoffs.


As businesses scale down recruitment due to the pandemic, many undergraduates are scrambling for places in graduate programs and lowering their salary expectations. Meanwhile, many graduates are putting security above all else, focusing their efforts on stable jobs in the state sector.


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