Higher education systems in East Asia are rated more highly by employers than the graduates they produce, according to new data from an annual survey of companies published by Times Higher Education.
The figures, from the worldwide survey of firms underpinning this year’s Global University Employability Ranking, show that countries such as Japan and China are often viewed as having the best systems for preparing today’s graduates for the modern world of work.
However, when asked separately about the employability of their graduates, these East Asian nations tend to register lower scores. At the same time, the situation is reversed for some European countries such as the UK and Germany, who gain better scores for their graduates than their systems as a whole.
Almost 2,500 graduate recruiters from 22 countries were questioned for the survey, which was designed by the French human resources company Emerging. Views on the universities producing the most employable graduates feed into a final ranking that will be published in November.
Two other questions in the survey asked recruiters to name up to three countries with the most employable graduates and up to three nations that they felt had the best systems to prepare graduates “for the challenges of the digital age”.
For graduates, the US came out on top, with 38.4 per cent of respondents making the country one of their choices. Germany was second (25.2 per cent of respondents) and the UK third (22.4 per cent).
But asked about systems, Japan (23.5 per cent of respondents) was second to the US (37.4 per cent), with Germany (21.2 per cent) and the UK (19.8 per cent) being less likely to be mentioned.
China, South Korea and Hong Kong were all chosen by recruiters more often when asked about systems compared with the question about graduates, while France was outside the top 10 for the best systems but inside the highest placings for graduates.
Laurent Dupasquier, associate director of Emerging, said the differences may be highlighting a gap between the image and reputation of some education systems and the direct experience that recruiters had of their graduates.
“There is an element where there is that discrepancy between the knowledge that people have of these systems and the fact that they do have hands-on contact with people originating from [them],” he said.
There was also considerable variation in the views of employers by country. For example, recruiters in China and South Korea were among the most likely to say that US graduates were among the most employable while German-based companies were much less likely to pick the UK.
Here, Mr Dupasquier highlighted cultural differences among countries such as German firms preferring graduates that had received a more vocational education or the US still casting an aura in Asia “as a great economic power”, a view that may be “far less prevalent in Europe”.
Meanwhile, preview figures have also been released showing the number of universities that each country has in the top 150 of the employability ranking this year.
The US is still the leading nation with 33 universities in the top 150, but this is down two on last year, with Germany now second (up two to 13 institutions). The UK's position has remained stable with 10 institutions in the top 150 and is now equal with France (down two to 10 institutions).
However, Mr Dupasquier cautioned against reading too much into the country totals as the placings for universities in each nation may have fallen even when the number of institutions had risen.