In the report, author Ka Ho Mok, vice president and chair professor of Comparative Policy at Lingnan University, Hong Kong, (and international co-investigator at the Centre for Global Higher Education), points to the “strong intention of Asian governments to rank highly in global university leagues” and that they are “exerting serious efforts to boost their universities’ global competitiveness”.
“Second class citizens are emerging and educational inequality has been intensifying”
However, he warned that that the quest for an as yet undefined, ’world-class’ university status has led to “negative consequences of stratifying universities and accumulating negative impacts on students for those who cannot get into the selected few.
“Second class citizens are emerging and educational inequality has been intensifying,” Mok charged.
The more immediately positive results of these efforts include a top 100 Times Higher Education University Ranking (2015–2016) for nine out of the top 10 universities in Asia, with five of those universities listed in the top 50 in the world.
Furthermore, there has been a steady increase in the number of papers written by scholars based in Asia featuring in international publications – a highly prized outcome that has fuelled talk of a shift in influencers from west to east.
However, in the context of a 50% increase in enrolments in the Asia Pacific region over the last decade, the report states that massification of HE in Asia has created a growing concern about the rate of graduate under-employment and unemployment.
Examples given include South Korea, where three million “economically inactive” graduates are reported; Japan, where 38% of the Japanese graduates in 2009 “could not find jobs even eight months after graduating”, and China where around 38% of graduates in 2013 could not find employment.
As a counter to this trend, the report sets out to explore how the concerns of academics about the value of education offered at Asian universities can be assuaged by the growth of the liberal arts, particularly prevalent at Hong Kong institutions.
“We should not simply count universities as tools to meet economic demands and serve GDP growth”
Using his own institution, Lingnan University, as an example, Mok emphasises the value and importance of a liberal arts education, claiming that this approach offers a broader, more all-round approach, role differentiation and a “fit-for-purpose education”.
In efforts towards ‘whole-person development’ the report references Lingan University’s provision of “a broad scope of courses, including professional training, general education, language learning, and information technology literacy” adding that “this university incorporates classroom learning with hostel life and campus activities.”
“We should not simply count universities as tools to meet economic demands and serve GDP growth”, argued Mok, “but also as places to cultivate students to become compassionate leaders with international and regional perspectives, broad-based education, and professional skills to handle increasingly complex problems or issues.”
He concluded: “In Asia, rather than focusing solely on global university rankings, we need to recognise the wider contribution that higher education – particularly liberal arts education – makes to society.”