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Paving the way for successful youth

Myanmar’s top researchers gathered last weekend at Yangon University to listen to the ideas on promoting research in Myanmar. The Myanmar Universities Research Conference featured an impressive array of 200 research papers written by senior academics. The minister of Education, the chair of the National Education Policy Commission, and the chair of Rectors’ Committee made a strong commitment to raise the quality of higher education in Myanmar, particularly in terms of improving the international ranking of institutions of higher education.

Many of us young researchers were encouraged by their promises. Hanan Khalifa of Cambridge English, the keynote speaker, emphasised that the employability of university graduates is crucial to improving the ranking, and that a mix of both hard and soft skills are necessary for students to succeed in their chosen careers and to become “impactful citizens.” Citing global recruitment firms such as LinkedIn and Manpower Group, Khalifa shared 12 top skills that multinational corporations, companies and organisations around the world expect from new recruits and asked the audience whether our universities have the proper curricula to teach these skills.

Unfortunately, the answer is no, so she recommended that the country focus on three areas to start – creativity, diversity and mindfulness.

Promoting research is a welcome first step to helping our higher education institutions catch up with the rest of the world. However, this is not enough to bring about the reforms needed in our higher education system. Business leaders have expressed concern, not so much about the technical skills of our university graduates but more about the soft skills gap, which makes most of our young grads unemployable.

Perhaps, research at universities should focus not only on fundamentals but also on applied research that links academia to policymakers, and researchers to communities. Some of these skills are essential for university students as a form of experiential learning in areas considered important for the workplace.

Also, a quick transition from school to work has been recognised as one of the most important development strategies affecting youth around the world. As the government targets youth and employment in the Myanmar Sustainable Development Plan, focusing on young job seekers particularly unemployed university graduates, should be one of the most urgent priorities for public investment.

Youth in Myanmar aged 15-29 make up approximately a quarter of the country’s population, with 51.5 percent under the age of 28 and 55pc under the age of 30.

But poor education and low employment among our youth is a major concern. According to a labour-force survey conducted by the government and the International Labour Organization, 17pc of youth are neither in schools nor the workforce, including 25.4pc of females and 7.5pc of males. These youth are at risk of becoming socially excluded or recruited for illicit activities and hate groups. Also, 29pc of Myanmar youth have migrated either within the country or overseas, leading to imbalanced growth across the country.

Labour force statistics show an alarmingly high unemployment rate among educated youth. Those with university degrees make up 26pc of the total unemployed youth in Myanmar, compared to less than 5pc in other ASEAN countries. This could potentially undermine any efforts by higher education administrators, unless they coordinate with the authorities to adapt our higher education policies to emerging market demand.

Being isolated in the past, Myanmar lags behind other countries in technological change and innovation, particularly in higher education. As a result of the rapidly changing nature of globalisation and structural shifts, education, training and labour market policies will have to be able to respond promptly to emerging skill needs. The adaptability of the workforce – both workers and jobseekers – should be encouraged through the development of transferable skills, broader vocational profiles and competency-based training.

In higher education, the curriculum should help students learn beyond the classroom by incorporating applied research, quality internship and soft skills training.

Given the prevailing challenges facing peace and stability, Myanmar should invest in teaching soft skills – such as emotional intelligence, diversity and teamwork – promoting public-private partnership schemes in internships and apprenticeships to ensure the success of future generations in nation-building.

These extra-curricular programmes can mobilise positive energy in our university youth to build inter-personal relations and mutual respect while creating spaces for inclusive dialogue and intercultural understanding.

Young generations of Myanmar have an ardent desire to catch up with the rest of ASEAN, as we have studied and worked in neighbouring economies and know that the gaps are widening. Narrowing the gaps between human capital development is a fundamental strategy but also a long-term policy to implement. Meanwhile, strengthening our intellectual capital base and bridging the graduate skills gap can be tackled immediately through public-private partnerships.

Source: Myanmar Times

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