Educated but Broke: 80 Percent of Returned Students from Overseas Make Less than 10,000 Yuan

Educated but Broke: 80 Percent of Returned Students from Overseas Make Less than 10,000 Yuan
Jan 05, 2015 Translated by

Editor’s note: This article, translated from, reports the latest statistics regarding overseas returnees and their career prospects in China. The report shows that the actual salary prospects of the graduates upon their return home are falling short of their expectations, but employers still value overseas experience and it counts for something in terms of career development.

The Ministry of Education’s research center recently released the 2014 Blue Book for the Employment of Chinese Returnees from Overseas. The report summarizes data from hundreds of thousands of individuals and shows trends for Chinese personnel that have returned from overseas. These trends include employment aims and actual employment situations for returned overseas Chinese. The report notes that over half (57.94 percent) of returned overseas Chinese expect to find career opportunities in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen. The most sought after industry for returned Chinese is the financial sector followed by the education, information and software industries.

Photo: Kevin Dooley

Salaries slightly lower than expected

The report shows that almost half of returned students from overseas take positions at state-owned and private enterprises, followed by national utility companies and financial institutions. There are fewer returnees working at foreign owned businesses than there were in 2012. The survey shows that 80 percent of overseas returnees currently earn less than 10,000 Yuan per month. 73.5 percent of students who finished their doctorate degree abroad and 86.6 percent of students who finished their master’s degree abroad earn less than 10,000 Yuan. 88 percent of Chinese returnees who attended university abroad earn less than 10,000 Yuan per month and 51.14 percent of all Chinese students who have returned from abroad earn less than 5,000 Yuan per month. This includes 32.8 percent of those with a foreign doctorate degree, 40.86 percent of those with a master’s degree and 47.74 percent of students who did their undergraduate degree abroad.

Half of returned overseas Chinese students hope to earn a salary of 5,000-10,000 Yuan per month with 23.32 percent of returnees expecting a monthly salary of 10,000- 20,000 Yuan. 30 percent of returned students with a doctorate degree hope for a monthly salary between 10,000 Yuan and 20,000 Yuan. In reality, returnees are earning salaries that are slightly lower than expected. Zou Zhaohuang, the director of an educational study abroad program, said that students who have returned from studying overseas will generally have a lower starting salary. However, Zou said that when looking at two employees that have the same conditions when selecting senior management, those who have studied at a foreign institution generally have a leg up on the competition. The talents that students obtain while studying abroad are more in line with the demands of a managerial position at a Chinese enterprise. Students who have studied abroad have “great development potential” for this kind of talent.

Furthermore, the report also shows that nearly 85 percent of returned overseas students gained work experience while abroad (including internships). On average, returnees had worked 2.05 years while abroad. Students who had earned doctorate degrees while abroad had worked an average of 3.75 years while students with a master’s degree had worked an average of 1.48 years. Students who had earned a bachelor’s degree abroad worked an average of 2.87 years. Zou Zhaohuang pointed out that with rising levels of education in China, companies are no longer only looking for students with a diploma but qualifications that can refer to the applicant’s professional and practical experience as well. Having certain jobs or internships can make a candidate more competitive in the application process.

A shift from finance and education?

Chinese people studying abroad are choosing to study an increasingly broad range of subjects. The most popular fields of study are business administration, applied economics, foreign language and literature, art, science, computer science and technology, management science, engineering, education, sociology, and journalism and communication. 63 percent of these overseas returnees have a master’s degree, 30 percent have a bachelor’s degree and 6 percent have a doctoral degree.

Currently, there is a comparatively large demand for overseas talent in the fields of science and engineering in China. This coincides with an increased interest in studying these subjects among Chinese students studying abroad. These students have begun to look beyond the idea of working in business and finance and may change the face (and average salaries) of returnees from overseas.


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Keywords: Chinese exchange students career prospects Overseas returnees salary expectations


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I can only hope that Chinese and their parents understand their university degrees in US are no longer valuable.

Nov 06, 2016 09:00 Report Abuse



Bad returns on their investment

Jun 29, 2015 00:20 Report Abuse



10,000 Yuan a month, man I need to stop looking at all those Teach English at a famous school ads which pay 4500.

Feb 04, 2015 09:40 Report Abuse



Don't worry, Mummy and Daddy can buy you a house and car!

Jan 26, 2015 21:56 Report Abuse



I believe over 80% of those getting education overseas are either enrolled on "diploma mill" institution, or are hardly passing their subjects just to get the accolades when they get back home. But sometimes you cannot blame people for wanting to have an education overseas - the local competition for seats in higher education and the "learning by memorizing" culture has made a lot of parents weary of it and just look forward for an involved learning environment for their children.

Jan 07, 2015 10:33 Report Abuse



no no no... The Chinese know that in foreign countries they are not as well equipped to catch cheaters (and many don't expect the students to cheat, because it is wrong) so it is much easier for students to cheat overseas.

Jan 06, 2015 18:07 Report Abuse



Those students usually fail hard, I've seen when I was studying myself : they are terribly unprepared for a typical public Western university. At least in science, you can't pass the semester exams with just rote learning and cheating. You can bring books at the exam : you are asked to remember formulas, but to solve problems unseen during the class or tutoring sessions. There are personal works to do, where the professor follows the progress of the student weekly. A typical exam is a few questions where the answers have to demonstrated, and various approach are possible.

Jan 06, 2015 21:02 Report Abuse



First, could the article be a bit of propaganda to keep the "best and brightest" at home. Second, if 32.8% of foreign doctorate holders earn less than 5000rmb this place is in trouble. I see adverts for waitresses for 3000! I'd love to know where and what these Phd's studied to make themselves irrelevant in this economy.

Jan 06, 2015 14:17 Report Abuse



If you work as a lecturer in a public Chinese university (which is a typical starting position for a PhD), you get 5000 RMB. You get perks like free accommodation, better than average schooling for the kids, welfare scheme, etc. So a common arrangement for married couples is : one works in a public university to get the perks, and one works in the industry for the higher income. Eventually, if you publish and/or do consulting, you can inflate those 5000 RMB.

Jan 06, 2015 16:29 Report Abuse



they all get published. They get an idea for a thesis or get funded for a thesis, then assign that to all their senior students. EZ to get published in China.

Jan 06, 2015 19:50 Report Abuse


comment|54312|81937 !! Works every time! Just C & P!! Oh gosh I just hate it ...

Jan 09, 2015 01:11 Report Abuse



And, how much they want ? do they think Americas or Europes had those great salaries for all the time ?

Jan 06, 2015 12:19 Report Abuse



That would be interesting to see the income progression over 5 years for returnee vs. local students. At first, they got about the same income, because the company just want to see what their new recruits are able to do. The locals, with largely inflated grades and zero skills, are likely to stagnate (something I've see 1st hand).

Jan 06, 2015 09:24 Report Abuse



Agree. Actually the returnees are paid 3 times more if the figure in this article is true. Last year figure, local grads (commerce studies) were paid RMB 1800 (minimum wage) monthly, science grads around RMB 3000, that's what the kids working in Shenzhen told me. An export based light torch manufacturer in Ningbo moaned to me in his factory an experienced assembly line worker costed him RMB 3000 these days when I mentioned his products were getting more and more expensive, going from around USD1.00 to USD 5.00 each when I met him about 7 years ago (this is the 'true cost' of those fancy 'blinded you to death police/milatary' torch btw). He says the government is constantly forcing them to raise wages.

Jan 06, 2015 10:27 Report Abuse



Returned Students from Overseas means absolutely nothing without getting into details on who goes where and learns what exactly. And here's a part of the answer: when those students get abroad, 90% of them keep doing exactly the same thing they would have have done at home, which is cheating and cramming exams, then they eventually graduate with zero shine since most of the higher education institutions in western countries expect adults with adult behaviors and end up with kids, which is something they aren't prepared for (but who cares, they pay their tuition and get back on the plane). So what exactly are they like when they go home? What happens when they show up to an interview? Well, they look exactly like the next candidate who graduated from the local uni down the street. Seriously, what did you expect? The only way returnees could ever manage to truly make a difference is if the companies were ranked by their dear government in meaningless statistics for whatever purpose, which is as good as it gets in China and doesn't happen anymore. I've already been saying for ages that the "returnees" phenomenon would be a sore disappointment. Here we are. And of course, there is the minority who's actually got talent, and actually made an impression. What happens to them? Well they get offered opportunities and residency and absolu-fucking-tedly aren't returning, or if they are they end up working for foreign companies anyway. Oh, were you under the impression that we were doing you a favor China? Yeah, sure keep dreaming. Now one last thing, except actual domains like hard sciences and research, keep in mind that all the useless degrees in like "business", "management" or "banking" are completely meaningless in China, since even should anyone prove any competence in what they're doing, a whole administration of incompetence would negate anything they'd do and everyone knows it. So, unfortunate returnees in above domains and assimilated, sorry to announce you that you're in the same market as everyone else with the exact same conditions, and that the only thing that would make you stand out is guanxi, just like always. Oh, and by the way, why do your salaries suck? Because a salary is the reflect of how much people value every minute of the time they spend on the account of someone else, and that the tragedy of China and Asia is that people can waste other people's time as much as they want and nobody will ever say a thing. But yeah, keep thinking it's because there's too many people or whatever dumb excuse you can think of.

Jan 06, 2015 09:23 Report Abuse



Can we meet? Lets meet.

Jan 07, 2015 21:02 Report Abuse



Why don't they report the stats for domestic grads? Because it would show that they actually earned less. Working for a company that allows you to work 5 days a week and does not cheat you needs to be taken into account. Vacation time. Which city do they get to work in? Job happiness? These things need to be taken into account. That being said, 4 years abroad is not enough to undo a lifetime of brainwashing and miseducation. They still are useless but less useless

Jan 05, 2015 22:53 Report Abuse



Several possibilities (1) Face; flipping burgers is not much better than cleaning toilets which in their culture is being looked down upon. So huge the loss of face (shame) for someone with a U-degree many would rather opt for the rope. (2) Others would die to stay if they can find a job (but not flipping burgers); when they can't they have to leave because they are on student visa. (3) If their parents are rich enough to send them abroad for study they probably have enough guanxi to have a jackpot job waiting for them, probably within the government, the first job is only a 'stamp of innocence'.

Jan 05, 2015 21:51 Report Abuse



You still need a visa to stay, many countries are kicking them out after their time in university.

Jan 05, 2015 23:11 Report Abuse



like ants the mainlanders follow...Every kid suddenly went first it was good...but then 10000 became 1 million a a whole bunch of money spent for no reason. copy copy the market is oversaturated...This is the story of what you have money to go abroad...cant fix stupid.

Jan 05, 2015 19:37 Report Abuse



Exactly...I talked with a Chinamen who moved to Canada...goes to the university and fails all his classes. He brags about it...including the gf he met in Canada with the matching BMWs. ridiculous.

Jan 07, 2015 13:27 Report Abuse



That's why Taiwanese hate blacks even more than mainlanders. They are very smart.

Jan 07, 2015 22:32 Report Abuse