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British Council conference discusses employability

Update: August, 10/2012 - 10:42

HCM CITY — How is employability defined in the contemporary global context? Why should higher education address employability issues? These and other questions are being addressed by businesses and educators at a two-day dialogue that began in HCM City yesterday organised by the British Council.

"Employability skills in Southeast Asia and the needs of the new economy: The challenge for higher education" is the first in the British Council's series of "Global Education Dialogues: the Asia Series" to take place in six Asia countries/ territories through January.

The event in HCM City was attended by Deputy Minister of Education and Training of Viet Nam Associate Professor Dr Tran Quang Quy and British ambassador Dr Antony Stokes.

Joining the debate around employability were World Bank economists and education specialists, educators, and employers from nine countries – Australia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, the UK, and Viet Nam.

"In Viet Nam, graduates' employability is a topic of special interest as the country's competitive advantage of a young and low-cost labour force is waning," the director of British Council Viet Nam, Robin Rickard, said.

The country's population is ageing with the 5-19 demographic proportion set to drop to 22 per cent by 2020 from 27 per cent a decade earlier.

Besides, Bangladesh and Cambodia are now potentially offering lower-cost labour than Viet Nam.

"This reality poses a tough challenge for policy-makers, educators, businesses and individuals in Viet Nam," Rickard said.

But many other East Asian countries also face the challenge of an ageing population and the need to boost labour productivity.

In this context, the policy dialogue created a unique opportunity for various stakeholders like policy-makers, educators, and businesses to listen to each other.

Among the key note speakers was Prof Alison Halsted, pro-vice chancellor, strategic academic developments, Aston University, UK.

She shared her findings on how the UK responded to economic change and the skills that local and international students should be equipped with.

She had plenty to talk about how to create industry links and produce technically literate young people who have business and enterprise skills, ready for the labour market.

Ton Nu Thi Ninh, director of the Tri Viet Centre for Social and Educational Research and a well-known former diplomat, talked about the need for both public and private universities in Viet Nam to rise to the challenge of the new economic context.

Prof Le Quang Minh, vice president of the Viet Nam National University HCM City, presented concrete measures implemented by the national university to improve the quality and employability of its graduates.

National and institutional initiatives that have been implemented by other East Asian countries were also presented through case studies from Indonesia, the Philippines, and Myanmar.

Prof Rupert Maclean of Hong Kong came up with an argument that the increasing emphasis on preparing individuals for employment rather than the traditional academic education resulted in the "vocationalisation of higher education."

Dr Mutsuhiro Arinobu of the University of Tokyo reviewed Japan's situation amid an ageing population and the need to produce advanced human resources to grow and maintain its global presence.

Representing industry in the dialogue, Dr Vo Tan Long, country general manager of IBM Viet Nam, underlined the need for new generations of professionals who demonstrate deep industry-specific knowledge and business process and people skills.

He spoke about IBM's experience in working with universities world-wide to equip students with an integrated mix of business, technology, and people skills.

Le Tien Truong, vice president of the Viet Nam National Textile and Garment Group, said Viet Nam's textile and apparel industry, the world's fifth largest faced a severe shortage of high-quality labour .

Paul Smith, chairman of Harvey Nash Outsourcing, which employs more than 2,000 people in HCM City and Ha Noi, asked if "soft skills" should be a key subject ranked against mathematics, science, and languages, and part of the work ready programme to spark innovation, quality, and team work.

The next Global Education Dialogue is set to take place in Hong Kong on September 27-28 when it will address the future of the research networks in East Asia.

It will be followed by dialogues in Singapore (October 18-19), Malaysia (November 27-28), China (December 10), and Japan (January 15-16, 2013). — VNS

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