The rapid expansion and privatisation of higher education in Asia has led to problems around graduate employment and social mobility, according to the vice-president of a Hong Kong university.
Joshua Mok Ka-Ho, vice-president and chair professor of comparative policy at Lingnan University, said that the “massification” of higher education has “produced more graduates than the market needs today”, while increased privatisation prevents access to those from lower socio-economic backgrounds.
Speaking at the launch of the UCL Institute of Education’s Centre for Global Higher Education on 2 February, he added that graduates in Asian nations, in particular China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, are choosing to “defer employment by going to graduate school”.
“It’s not that they are very keen to go to graduate school. Many tell me they don’t want to continue with their education but they also don’t want to become unemployed after their first degree,” he said.
“There are 7 million graduates in China annually – that is around the population of Hong Kong. The ministry of education in Beijing says there is no problem but individuals keep on delaying employment.”
A slide included in Professor Mok's presentation said that the expansion of higher education is also impacting on the academic community as it is leading to staff that are "less qualified, overworked", "paid low salaries" and "given little opportunity to provide personal attention to students".
He presented data from 2013 that showed that the unemployment rate of graduates at Chinese universities two months after graduating is 17.6 per cent, but that this rises to 30.5 per cent for those in rural areas. In Japan, approximately 38 per cent of graduates were unemployed eight months after graduation in 2009 and this "has not improved", he said.
Professor Mok added that in 1996 only 4 per cent of 18 to 22-year-olds in China attended university, but this figure had soared to 24 per cent by 2009.
“There are significant socio-economic development implications if massification of higher education happens without careful mapping of graduate employment,” he said. “Many young people have difficulty earning a sufficient income to buy their first house.”
He added that Asia should not drive reforms to make changes in higher education "without placing equally important emphasis on universities achieving excellence holistically".
“I would like to bring back the humanistic perspective in university governance,” he said.
“Higher education reforms should shift attention toward the quest for excellence not only for efficiency and economic gains but also for human well-being.”