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Humanities feel the squeeze at universities in Shanghai

Shanghai University

Shanghai University

High school seniors aiming for majors in literature, social science, history or other liberal arts disciplines will find themselves squeezed for opportunity when they take the college entrance exam next month.

Many local universities have been reducing the enrollment of humanities students. The proportion of liberal arts slots available at Shanghai’s top 23 universities this year has dropped 2.5 percentage points from 2013, according to data Shanghai Daily compiled from the Shanghai College Enrollment Catalog released by the Shanghai Educational Examinations Authority.

“By reducing intake, universities are determining students’ futures,” said Ye Hong, deputy director of admissions and graduate employment services at Shanghai University. “It would be a big waste of talent and educational resources if graduates cannot find jobs.”

The shift in educational focus to science, technology and engineering from the humanities has been caused both by government development policies and by a job market hungry for specialized technical skills.

As of March, only about 10 percent of Shanghai college seniors majoring in literature and law had found jobs, decided to study abroad or were admitted to graduate programs. The rate for seniors in all majors was 20 percent.

Alarmed over the poor employment prospects for non-science graduates, the Shanghai Education Commission has asked local universities and colleges to reduce the intake of students in some majors. The hit list included marketing, sociology and social work.

High school students who want good jobs when they graduate from university are certainly poring over enrollment catalogs to determine where their best shots lie. The catalogs list enrollment quotas for different majors.

Shanghai University’s catalog said it plans to recruit 212 humanities students via the college entrance exam this year, accounting for only 15.3 percent of the total enrollment. That’s down 6 percentage points from last year.

Shanghai University of Finance and Economics also reduced the number of humanities students it will accept this year to 79 from 102 last year, while it increased enrollment of science students from 307 to 316.

The trend worries high school seniors like Huang Wenhui, a student at Shanghai No. 8 High School, who will sit the college entrance exam early in June.

She chose history over science in her high school elective courses, and now is wondering if she made a bad choice.

“It’s too late to switch to another subject,” said Huang, 17, who admitted she struggled with math.

“Science is more about logic and calculation, while humanities rely on memory and critical thinking, which I think is more suitable for girls. I’ve also heard that humanities courses are much easier than science.”

Competition getting fiercer

The thought of getting a college degree without much effort resulted in a large increase in numbers of high school students choosing humanities in the past.

From 2010 to 2013, humanities students as a proportion of entrance exam test-takers rose to 46.6 percent from 32.8 percent. In the same period, enrollment of humanities students accounted for about 20 percent to 30 percent of total recruitment at all Shanghai universities.

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