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On Social Media, East Asian Youth Echo Shortcomings of Higher Education

  • A new Bank report examining higher education in East Asia concludes that its institutions need to function as part of a connected system and be more responsive to labor market demands.
  • In advance of this release, the Bank approached students and recent graduates through social media to ask whether higher education was working for them.
  • Comments came in about learning methods and job-related training among others, with the issue of affordability of education getting most response.

Washington DC, October 13, 2011 — “Schools don’t focus on career planning” began a comment from China.

“College is affordable, but quality is in question” said a message from Cambodia. A response from Indonesia read, “No it isn’t, and my salary isn’t increasing.”

Looking ahead, “I’d like to see a more open and global teaching system, with respect for local values,” suggested a post.

In advance of releasing its flagship report, Putting Higher Education to Work: Skills and Research for Growth in East Asia, the World Bank East Asia and Pacific Region approached students and recent graduates through social media to ask whether higher education was working for them. The chatter flowing from developing East Asian countries revealed realistic views on how higher education can be improved, in many cases echoing the Bank report’s own messages.

Higher education is becoming more and more important for the region as countries work to climb up the income ladder. It has the potential to provide skills and research to spur productivity and innovation, considered critical to achieving growth in a competitive global environment. The report examines higher education and concludes that its institutions need to function as part of a connected system, as well as be more responsive to labor market demands and the economy as a whole.

In this discussion, no group has more at stake than students and recent graduates themselves, hoping to secure a position armed with their hard-earned degrees. Questions related to the report were posted in seven low and middle income countries in East Asia on World Bank Facebook in English, complemented with Indonesian on Bank Dunia Facebook and Chinese on SINA. YouThink, the Bank’s youth website, opened up the discussion to the global audience as well.

What did students and recent graduates think?

When asked if they received job-related training at their university or college, many replied, “None, and if there are, very limited” or ”No employment related training, employment guidance centers exist in name only.”

The report points out that “institutions do not systematically attempt to gather recent graduates’ feedback about the workplace relevance of their courses and training programs, which would allow those institutions to make changes in curricula and programs.” Lack of information on labor market needs was identified as one of the reasons why higher education institutions were not functioning more effectively as part of a system.

A question on affordability of higher education received the greatest response, evenly divided.

“Yes, the problem is accessing information about scholarships.” “Yes, if you belong to a rich family or are highly intelligent.” “No, it’s not worth the cost.” “No, I have to wait 7 years to save up just to go to university.”

“Countries are still under-spending on measures to enhance inclusiveness” says the report, documenting the cost constraints that students in the region face. “For most countries in East Asia, the combination of fees, scholarships and loans can increase equity and access to tertiary education. While fees are a necessary from of cost recovery, they should ensure the equality of opportunity for poorer and more vulnerable groups”

What are the changes that students want to see at their college or university?

“Develop learning methods that help both teachers and students think creatively and out of the box.” “Include internships in the curriculum so graduates will be ready to work.” “Make room on the campus for students to be entrepreneurs.”

“Entrepreneurship training for faculty, students, managers and workers is a very promising university-industry link for all countries. This will help boost weak management and leadership skills in low and middle income East Asia, indirectly lifting productivity” proposes the report.

Others were hesitant. “I hope schools don’t become too utilitarian, teaching very shallow things for employment. There should be in-depth knowledge”.

Some constructive criticism: “Students don’t have practical nor clear ideals of their own career goals.” “My lack of experience has been the biggest obstacle to find a job.” “Many companies don’t want to spend time to train graduates.”

From one employer: “I have difficulty finding workers who can use a computer – even Word and Excel.”

Others provided inspiration. “Higher education is a privilege, a professor once said to me. But I don’t agree…it’s not about having a high IQ or money. It’s about giving yourself a better chance in life. Where there’s a will, there will always be a way.”

No country has achieved, in the long term, high income status without improving higher education outcomes. If this snapshot is any measure, East Asia has much to look forward to.

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