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Colleges axing public affairs management degrees

By ZOU SHUO | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2022-08-15 09:31

After being dropped by 83 universities in the past five years, public affairs management has become the least preferred major at Chinese universities.

Last year alone, 31 universities stopped enrolling undergraduates in the major, according to a report on the annual adjustment of university majors released by the Ministry of Education. The major was the second-most canceled after information systems management, which was dropped by 33 universities.

In 2020, the major was dropped by 21 universities, and accounted for the most cancellations.

Experts said the discipline's declining popularity can largely be attributed to the difficulties undergraduates face in landing jobs due to the existing surfeit of public affairs management specialists with limited working experience.

According to a list last released by the Ministry of Education in 2014, the discipline was already one of 15 undergraduate majors with the lowest employment rates in 2012 and 2013.

It wasn't always this way. The public affairs management major was first offered in 1998, and 20 years ago it was one of the most popular choices. Between 2000 and 2001, the number of universities offering the major grew from 57 to 132.

Some experts believe that universities should offer majors that accord with actual societal needs, and cautioned that short-lived disciplines are a waste of public resources.

Xu Hanze, associate professor at the Public Affairs Management Department at the Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, said that the main reason for the discipline's cancellation is that it has not kept up with societal demands.

It is still taught in terms of broad concepts, while society now has a greater demand for more precisely trained professionals, he said, adding that in the rush to expand, some universities did not have sufficient numbers of qualified faculty members to teach students.

He said that many undergraduate liberal arts majors take a broad approach to teaching, and that this was not unique to public affairs management.

"We need to take an objective view, because majors with a narrow focus also risk becoming outdated by the time students have finished their four years of study, while those graduating with broader training can adapt more easily to a changing society."

Kong Deji, who received a doctoral degree in public affairs management from the China Agricultural University and who is now a researcher at the Rural Reform and Socio-economic Development Institute at Anhui University, said the cancellations do not mean that the major is not worthwhile, and that it is useful as it involves the study of a wide range of topics such as economics, sociology and politics.

He added that as both parents and students have difficulty understanding what kind of job a public affairs management graduate can expect to find, the discipline often comes with lower enrollment requirements than other majors, and while the quality of teaching has improved, some of those that teach the major come from other disciplines and have not undergone professional training in the field.

Li Zongning, a public affairs management graduate from the Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, said that although she learned a wide range of subjects as an undergraduate, she only learned the basics.

"As a result, public affairs management graduates can only find jobs that are just as easily done by students with other majors," she said. About 80 percent of her classmates have decided to pursue postgraduate studies to improve their chances of getting a good job, and she has enrolled at Beihang University to do the same this September.

Li Yuting, a working postgraduate student at Renmin University of China, said that people with work experience are more suited to pursuing advanced degrees in public affairs management.

Teachers use case studies to explain public policy, and students with work experience in their respective fields are better able to understand the decision-making process behind the public policy, she said.

Liu Mingqi, a senior undergraduate student of administrative management at RUC, said that undergraduates find it hard to properly study the major because doing so requires the kind of comprehensive ability and knowledge most do not yet possess.

Although undergraduates with the major can go on to work as government officials or in the human resources departments of companies, Liu said that most of his classmates have chosen to pursue a postgraduate degree as the undergraduate degree is not sufficient to secure a decent job.

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