Alignment of Higher Education and the Workplace in Asia

The Asian Development Bank reports on the nature of the changes in the workplace in the region and suggests ways in which the region’s academic institutions need to adapt: This section reads like a prescription for U.S. higher education —

The Changing Workplace

Interesting times could be in store in countries like the PRC, Indonesia, and Thailand, where the percentage of higher education graduates in the workforce is now about one-fifth—double what it was 15–20 years ago. In the dynamic Asian region, demands of the workplace change quickly
and can result in changes in unemployment rates, rates of return, and workplace opportunities. The major qualitative changes in the workplace will be linked with the expanding need for innovation, ability to exploit niche industries, and capacity to operate in an increasingly multilingual
and cultural global milieu (Cheng 2007). Developed countries have learned hard lessons about the futility of relying upon human resources planning forecasts and over-specialization in higher education.

While economies still require some very specific types of human resources, dynamic economies also require high-level talent that is innovative, risk taking, adaptable, and responsive to changing environments. The modern workplace is flatter and less hierarchical than before and requires different skills sets than in the past. The implications are significant for higher education. Colleges and universities will have to radically change the way that instruction is delivered as well as expand offerings in continuing education for workers who need to readjust to rapidly changing labor markets. Employers will expect their employees to be more attuned to an increasingly competitive external environment, which will require good skills for teamwork, problem-solving ability, communication, and other so-called non-cognitive or “soft” skills [Research in the U.S. confirms these same skills are highly valued by employers]. 
Universities should appoint representatives of local business and industry to their career advisory boards, which already contain academics from different departments of the university. Forums on globalization, the knowledge economy, and graduate employment can create ideas for forging a closer alignment between universities and the workplace. This calls for modification of aspects of the traditional elite university models to find ways for higher learning both to maintain the essence of universities and also to exploit their advantage in providing students with a broad understanding and an entrepreneurial orientation that will improve their capacity to enter the labor market. The external efficiency of Asian higher education will increasingly come to depend upon the extent to which graduates can enter a workplace that is regional in scope, one in which knowledge and skills are not only relevant for domestic labor markets but transferable across borders and beyond the region. The recruitment and utilization of talent that drives economic change will be sourced not only by universities in their own countries but also by regional centers of higher learning.

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