Economy

China's Surprising Advice To College Students: Drop Out

As China faces a glut of graduates with fewer employment opportunites, its education ministry is pushing student entrepreneurship, even if it means dropping out.

Wave goodbye to Mao,  Zhejiang University
Wave goodbye to Mao, Zhejiang University
Pang Lijing

BEIJING — To deal with a glut of college graduates, China's education ministry has launched a new campaign of sorts encouraging entrepreneurship among students, and even asking universities to allow students to drop out of school to start businesses.

"Colleges should set up flexible mechanisms to allow students to drop out to undertake ventures," the education ministry's new directive says. "Colleges are to employ successful people — businessmen, investors, and experts — as part-time instructors to provide one-to-one coaching for innovative and entrepreneurial students."

It is big news in China and comes amid soaring employment pressure for China's college graduates. The country had 6.89 million graduates in 2012, and the number this year is expected to grow to 7.49 million.

When she got word of the news, Chen, who founded a company when she was still a college student, immediately took to her WeChat Chinese social media timeline: "Now my parents, professors and classmates who opposed my idea can't say I'm a fool anymore."

Wang, a high school teacher and parent of a college-age child, says that encouraging a flexible education system with students dropping out of school and developing startups will fill a deficiency in higher education. He's convinced that real-life business experience will help college students understand what knowledge they lack, giving them a clearer career goal when they return to study later.

Zhejiang University is a pioneer in this area. The campus in offers 30 entrepreneurship courses, including startup training, startup competition, startup exchanges and incubation. These courses account for 15% of the college's general education curriculum.

Library at Zhejiang. Photo: Constantboat

The skeptics

But not everyone is pleased with the government's initiative. Liang Yunfeng, founder of a fundraising and startup coaching platform called Venture Valley, says it's absurd that the government is calling on students to become self-employed. "Starting your own business is worthy of encouragement, but you can't advocate it," he says.

Liang says that starting a business requires certain conditions, including expertise and skill. Second, business owners need strong entrepreneurial drive and risk-taking abilities, not to mention mentoring. Hot blood and energy alone are not enough to conquer the challenges of starting a business. On the contrary, it's more likely most youngsters will fail, he says.

"A startup isn't for everyone," he says. "Encouraging college students to throw around their parents' hard-earned money can lead to creating an even poorer group of people."

One parent notes that young people are naturally ambitious, particularly today when schools and society hype success stories. But he's convinced that the new government campaign will discourage college students from concentrating on their studies and devoting themselves to lonely research work. He believes that most parents wouldn't want their children to drop out of school to try business. Indeed, the broader motivation for going to college is for students to gain general knowledge and skills to prepare themselves for later life.

"To a certain extent, encouraging dropping out is a denial of higher education," the parent says. "It's like saying that there are problems in this four-year study system."

Others oppose the new education edict because they believe it's the outcome of the blind expansion of Chinese universities in recent year that turn out masses of graduates who aren't really qualified to join the labor market.

But Wu Xiaocheng, director of Zhejiang University"s student work department, says the school permits students to be self-taught with professorial coaching, and students can still graduate as long as they pass their final exams. Graduation can be postponed for up to six years. But rather than drop out, the university prefers students to complete their studies and start their businesses simultaneously.

Wu points out that a good number of his students are excellent both academically and in obtaining venture funding, and only a very few delay their graduation in order to start a business. "Entrepreneurial education needs to be rational," he says. "Not everyone is made for it."

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Geopolitics

How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.


But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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