US and Japan poles apart on their view of graduate ability

Latest Global University Employability Survey revealed the contrasting opinion of US and Japanese firms towards their higher education systems

November 22, 2017
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US universities again dominated this year’s ranking of the best institutions for employability, despite there being some signs that the nation’s lead over other countries may be waning.

But data from the survey of employers that underpinned the ranking, published by Times Higher Education on 16 November, may hint at one reason why the country is so successful in the list: firms in the US are simply more likely to think that their own graduates are the best.

According to a question in the survey where employers were asked – on a scale of one to 10, with 10 being the best – how satisfied they were with higher education in their own country, the US scored an average of 8.3, a point higher than the second-placed country, Canada (7.3).

This clear lead for the US was mirrored, meanwhile, by companies in other countries having a noticeably negative view of their higher education systems: most strikingly, given the strong performance of their universities in other rankings, in Japan and South Korea. Japanese employers gave their university system an average score of just 5.5, while South Korea fared only marginally better with 5.7.

This pattern was also replicated in some of the more detailed questions about graduate employability in the survey. For instance, when employers were asked for their view of universities in their own country on various aspects such as teaching quality, Japan and South Korea consistently performed badly compared with competitors.

Laurent Dupasquier, associate director of French human resources company Emerging, which designed the Global University Employability Survey, said that, since the survey’s inception in 2010, Japanese recruiters had always been among the least satisfied with their own universities.

He believed that embedded cultural differences between Japan – where the “most important quality…is humility” – and somewhere such as the US where people were unashamedly patriotic, were one explanation.

But he also pointed to recent generational shifts in attitudes in Japan, where younger people are rejecting the old model of students graduating from university and then devoting their working life to one firm.

“That might be reflected in the view of recruiters who see young people who do not fit the traditional role of how graduates should enter the market,” he said.

Mr Dupasquier added that another factor may be the model of teaching in Japan and South Korea, which traditionally had been more theoretical and less likely to fit with the skill expectations of employers.

Akiyoshi Yonezawa, director of the Office of Institutional Research at Japan’s Tohoku University, said that it was also important to note that, despite the views expressed in the survey, graduate employment in Japan was very high.

But this also reflected a system where firms recruited students before they had even finished their studies, giving graduates specific on-the-job training once they started work.

“Thus, Japanese companies in general do not expect [too much] on specific skills and knowledge to be acquired during university studies,” he said.

“Instead, they tend to pay attention [to] the generic skills and attitudes called ‘trainability’ or ‘learning ability’ that [are] key [to the] success [of] in-house on-the-job and off-the-job training at the companies,” Professor Yonezawa added, and firms “can know these roughly from the selectivity of the universities at the timing of…admission”.

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