Professor Ka Ho Mok examines how the ‘massification’ and the ‘universalisation’ of higher education in mainland China and Taiwan could intensify social inequality.
In the last two decades there has been a rapid expansion of higher education in China and Taiwan. While in the 1990s this increase enhanced equity and equality in society, in recent years the growing number of university graduates has led to fewer employment opportunities and a skill mismatch in the labour market.
The paper is entitled ‘Employability and mobility in the valorisation of higher education qualifications: the experiences and reflections of Chinese students and graduates’. Using case studies from university students and graduates in these two Chinese societies, Professor Mok and co-authors Zhuoyi Wen and Roger Dale highlight the challenges faced by recent graduates, who – as the returns of a university degree have flattened out – have become identified as the urban working poor.
Some might predict that as supply and demand pressures reduce the pay premium for degrees, income inequalities in society would be reduced. Yet this study shows how the expansion of higher education could actually intensify inequality.
As the value of a degree has declined, the graduate labour market has become skewed in favour of those with greater social capital. Socio-economic status is exerting a stronger influence on the opportunities available to graduates, resulting in a worsening of social mobility and income inequality. Understanding the nature and consequences of how graduates ‘valorise’ their academic credentials is therefore central to any understanding of how education can bring about greater social justice.