Dialogue on enhancing graduate employability in ASEAN
From the vantage point of 20 months since the COVID-19 outbreak was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization, and particularly in the context of recent developments in Southeast Asia, many in the region are beginning to look ahead with cautious optimism.
The member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) became the epicentre of the pandemic in 2021, having contained the virus more effectively than much of the world in 2020.
But at a recent press conference in Singapore, the country’s health minister, Ong Ye Kung, said the pandemic situation in Southeast Asia is “fast stabilising” and that, as a result, Singapore adjusted the risk classification for several ASEAN countries, including Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam.
The minister noted that this gave Singapore “scope to start opening up our borders with regional countries”. The potential of freer movement is welcome news for a region that has implemented among the tightest border restrictions anywhere in the world since March 2020.
The contribution of youth to ASEAN
As has been the case in other parts of the world, young people have been among the hardest hit by the pandemic in ASEAN. Their access to education and employment has been hampered, as have their personal and social lives at a critical time in their development.
When we consider that 34% of the ASEAN’s population is between the ages of 15 and 35 and that ASEAN youth are net contributors to job creation, innovation and advancing the socio-economic progress of the region, graduate employability is a key issue.
The recent ASEAN Digital Generation Report by the World Economic Forum in collaboration with Sea Ltd surveyed just under 86,000 people from ASEAN of which 77% were youth between the ages of 16 and 35. It found that 80% of the youth surveyed experienced difficulty in working and studying remotely; and those who reported finding it impossible decreased to 3% from 2020’s results of 7%.
Despite this, almost a third of respondents reported creating a new business, while 12% created employment for others and 25% started a new job. The burgeoning e-commerce sector in Southeast Asia is the source of much of this growth. In this context, 85% of respondents acknowledged digital transformation as being either very important or important for post-pandemic economic recovery in the region.
ASEAN’s graduate employability initiatives
The last years have seen a number of initiatives directed at graduate employability. The ASEAN Declaration on Human Resources Development for the Changing World of Work was adopted by the 36th ASEAN Summit on 26 June 2020.
The Declaration is implemented through strategies and actions outlined in the Roadmap of the ASEAN Declaration on Human Resources Development for the Changing World of Work 2020-2030, within a vision of ‘an ASEAN workforce that is future ready and equipped with competencies that enable them to actively and effectively contribute to the sustainable development, competitiveness, and resilience of ASEAN’.
In addition, the European Union Support to Higher Education in the ASEAN Region (SHARE) Programme has initiated a study on Graduate Employability in ASEAN – The Contribution of Student Mobility.
It is envisaged that the study will further engage higher education institutions across the ASEAN region to collect and analyse student and alumni mobility data, identify partnership opportunities with employers and determine the role of internships in augmenting graduate employability. The outcomes of this study are expected in mid-2022.
Meanwhile, on 27 July 2021 the ASEAN Working Group on Higher Education Mobility 2025 was launched to advance the development of an ASEAN Higher Education Space.
Within the scope of its mandate, the Working Group seeks to engage representatives of regional employers to provide input and capacity development on student internships, employability and potential sources of funding and support for the sustainable implementation of an intra-ASEAN Student Mobility Scholarship and cross-border internships.
In much the same way as there is a lack of comprehensive and actionable data on student mobility in Southeast Asia, there is a corresponding dearth of meaningful data on graduate employability.
There is also a need for far greater cooperation between the region’s policy-makers, higher education institutions and employers on the skills required for the future of work and on how a tripartite approach can take ownership of this context to establish a continuum of learning between higher education and employment.
A dialogue on graduate employability in ASEAN
To contribute to this process, the SHARE Programme will hold its forthcoming 13th SHARE Policy Dialogue, entitled ‘University and Employer Engagement to Enhance Graduate Employability in ASEAN’, from 23-25 November 2021. As with the previous two iterations of the SHARE Policy Dialogue, the sessions will be fully online and registration is open to all.
This three-day event brings policy, practical and professional perspectives to the relationship between internationalisation in ASEAN and the employability of the region’s graduates.
Sessions will explore what steps can be taken to improve intra-ASEAN mobility programmes’ contributions to graduate employability in the Industry 4.0 context and give SHARE Scholarship alumni an opportunity to reflect on the skills and resources they developed through their participation in intra-ASEAN mobility programmes.
The SHARE Policy Dialogue will be opened by the EU Ambassador to ASEAN, Igor Driesmans, and the new Deputy Secretary-General of ASEAN for the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community, Ekkaphab Phanthavong.
The conference will see keynotes by Dr Michael Murphy, president of the European University Association; Professor Bernard Tan, senior vice provost of the National University of Singapore; and Vincent Quah, Asia-Pacific education lead at Microsoft.
Speakers will cover the regional contexts of embedding employability in the university curriculum and how employers can collaborate more effectively with higher education institutions to enable graduates to make a smoother transition into the workplace.
Plenary panel discussions among policy-makers, higher education practitioners, employers, alumni and students from across the region will explore the contribution of internationalisation to graduate employability, the nexus of higher education and employer collaboration and the new agenda for graduate skills responding to Industry 4.0.
The conference will hear from SHARE Intra-ASEAN Mobility Scholarship alumni on their employment experiences since graduation and their aspirations for their future working lives.
In advance of the first day of the Policy Dialogue, on 22-23 November 2021, the SHARE Programme and the National University of Singapore Centre for Development of Teaching and Learning will jointly hold a hybrid seminar – the first in-person event held by the SHARE Programme since March 2020 – on “Ensuring Quality During Challenging Times” to address flexible quality assurance measures, digital learning opportunities and the delivery of skills-based outcomes.
It is envisaged that sustaining such hybrid dialogues among higher education stakeholders, employers, alumni and partners of the ASEAN region will facilitate the inclusive sharing of models, good practices and experiences in advancing human development in a changed world and the ever-changing world of work.
Based in Singapore, Darren J McDermott is the team leader of the European Union Support to Higher Education in the ASEAN Region (SHARE) Programme. From Dublin, Ireland, he has lived and worked in Asia for much of the last 20 years, predominantly within the higher education and international development sectors. Twitter: EURASEANEDU. You can join both the 13th SHARE Policy Dialogue series from 23-25 November 2021 (Register at: bit.ly/SHAREPD13) and the SHARE-National University of Singapore seminar on “Ensuring Quality During Challenging Times” from 22-23 November 2021 (Register at: bit.ly/RegisterSHARENUS).