VIENTIANE, June 15, 2012 – Low- and middle-income countries in East Asia need to make their higher education systems more responsive to labor market demands and the economy as a whole to climb up the income ladder, says the World Bank East Asia and Pacific Regional Report entitled “Putting Higher Education to Work: Skills and Research for Growth in East Asia”.
This message is being echoed and discussed at the workshop on Higher Education and Skills for Growth in Lao PDR, held on June 14, 2012 in Vientiane. The workshop brings together higher education thinkers in Lao PDR, senior officials from line ministries and development partners, to discuss the key findings of the report. Participants are made aware of some of the promising experiences on higher education reforms across East Asian countries, ways of ensuring the quality of higher education outcomes, as well as the importance of improving educational system and institutional governance and finance. Furthermore, the workshop also highlighted the disconnects in higher education and what policy reforms are needed to improve the quality, relevance, efficiency, and flexibility of higher education in order to stimulate country’s growth and its engagement with the global knowledge economy.
Across the East Asia region, higher education institutions can realize their full potential by providing skills and research to spur productivity and innovation, considered critical to achieving growth in a competitive global environment. The report sheds light on the functional skills that workers must possess to be employable and to support firms’ competitiveness and productivity. It also examines how higher education systems can produce research that will help apply, adapt and develop new technologies that will drive growth.
Impressive gains have been made in expanding access to higher education over the past two to three decades in the region, with enrollment rates rising to 20 percent or more in many countries from very low levels. The greater challenge overall is improving quality, to address vulnerabilities in developing and deploying enough of the right type of skills and research. “The Lao PDR has made impressive gains in expanding access to higher education over the past two decades. However, challenges remain in the areas of quality, governance, financing, and research in order to produce quality graduates for the increasingly competitive labor market”, said co-author of the report Prateek Tandon, World Bank Economist.
In addition to learning about the challenges in higher education across East Asia, participants also learn there are three priority areas where public policy can play a constructive role in improving higher education outcomes:
More efficient and effective financing
- Adequately finance and incentivize research
- Prioritize underfunded fields such as science and engineering
- Provide sufficient scholarships and loans for the poor and disadvantaged
Better management of public institutions
- Improve the management of public higher education institutions, where 70 percent of all East Asian students are enrolled, by encouraging greater autonomy and accountability
- Greater decision making autonomy in areas such as academic curricula, staffing and budgeting should be encouraged
- Accountability can be enhanced by delegating more power and responsibilities to institutions and governing boards and by providing students with information to choose and move across institutions
Stewardship of the higher education system
- Put in place adequate incentives for private institutions so that they can further help governments increase enrollment and strengthen skills
- Ensure stronger links between industry and universities
- Take advantage of opportunities provided by international higher education markets