April, 10 2014 09:11:00

Education policy drags on employment demand

New statistics from the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs (MOLISA) showed 72,000 undergraduates and graduates were unemployed in the final quarter of last year. They joined a total of 900,000 jobless people.— Photo baohaiquan

by Thuy Ha

Ten years ago, a Party member told a National Assembly meeting that we had abundance sources of labour. According to the calculation of professor Nguyen Minh Thuyet, then vice chairman of the NA's committee for culture and education, we needed only 13,000-15,000 graduates each year. If this calculation was for a population of 80 million plus, then it's clear the professor's warning was not taken seriously.

Only a decade later, we have realised that his warning was true.

New statistics from the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs (MOLISA) showed 72,000 undergraduates and graduates were unemployed in the final quarter of last year. They joined a total of 900,000 jobless people.

This shocking statistic has sparked a debate over one paradox: while more people are unable to find jobs, the need for workers is increasing.

Unemployment seemed to expand as last year's final quarter saw an increase of 48,000 against the previous year. Even more bad news is that the ones who were made redundant are those with degrees. The MOLISA's new figure shows that the level of unemployed BA and MA holders almost doubled in 2013.

As the country integrated more with the global economy, its need of workers in new occupations increased. With that came the growing number of new universities. They grew so fast that they did not care about the quality of the education they were providing or the quality of their graduates.

The best growth was between 2006-2010 when each year saw at least two new universities. The result has been a widening gap between the needs of the job market and the skills of fresh graduates.

One reason behind is that the number of students enrolling in courses linked to trendy professions, particularly in the service sector, increased rapidly. They made their choice without pondering if they would be able to find a job after graduation. This has created a serious shortage of skilled workers.

Many undergraduates and graduates, unable to find jobs, have had no choice but carry on studying to get a masters or PhD degree. They hope it will be easier to find a job if they have better qualifications. But the reality – as shown by MOLISA's report last month - has proved this is not always true, and isn't when supply and demand don't meet.

The old mentality that "degree holders get better jobs" has contributed to the problem. Many students have studied degrees to fulfill their parents' desires and not their own. Parents are often prouder of their children if they have degrees. Since State-owned companies favour degrees over performance, parents often force their children to get degrees in the hopes they will be employed by the State. Being State employees are more guaranteed for that reason.

"We need to change that perception," vice rector of Ha Noi Industry University Ho Xuan Quang told me last week after a conference in Ha Noi. So does the State employment mechanism. When performance at work, rather than past education, is taken into account for guaranteeing a job, students would no longer want degrees just for the sake of having a degree.

But more than that, we need more proper policies that connect training with recruitment needs. A long-term plan on human resources development is what we need and the State should be leading this effort to achieve a sustainable rate employment for graduates.

Sustainable employment is a key factor in sustaining a country's growth. This is especially important for Viet Nam which wants to become an industrialised country by 2020.

The relationship between demand and supply in the workforce has changed with the economic structure and the education sector has been playing catch up since. The education sector needs better policies that make sure it is up-to-date with the needs of the economy. Now is good time for reform in the education sector.

Professor Thuyet who made the warning a decade ago, has called on the State to "stop favouring the education sector". The Ministry of Education and Training has been blamed for the fast but unnecessary increase of new universities and corruption.

But of course, the enforcement of policies is the most important part of the process. According to director of United Nations' Development Policy, Statistics and Strategic Research Branch, Ludovico Alcorta, Viet Nam is known by foreign investors as having "very good policies on paper". But the right policies will not work if they are not enforced properly. — VNS

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