Column : Employers begin favouring Asian universities

And pass-outs from top Chinese institutions start becoming the most sought-after by global businesses.

Potential graduates watch out for rankings of universities for determining their preferences. But there is little research on the employability of these graduates once they pass out. If getting a good job is one of the most, if not the most important objective of a graduate qualification, which university and institute pass-outs are most valuable for employers?

The 2012 Global Employability Survey prepared by Emerging, a French consulting firm, and Trendence, a German research institute specialising in human resource recruitment, has some interesting findings on the premium attached to graduates in the job market. The survey has a bottom-up approach. Instead of identifying universities and asking industries to rank their preferences for pass-outs from these places, a large sample of recruiters, CEOs and business managers were asked to select the universities and institutes from where they prefer choosing their recruits.

Some of the results are expected. Graduates from top-notch universities and business schools in the US and Europe are among the favourites of employers. Harvard, Yale, Stanford, MIT, Columbia and Princeton from the US, and Oxford, Cambridge and Imperial College from the UK feature in the top 10. The US and Europe dominate the 150 universities and business schools reflected in the employability survey.

What is interesting is the steady emergence of some Asian universities among the favourites. And within these universities, the Chinese appear to be taking major strides.

The Peking University just misses the top 10 and is ranked 11th. The Fudan University is placed at the 28th. Further down, Shanghai Jiao Tong University is ranked 44th, while Tsinghua University is at 84.

Looked at in a country-specific view for Asia, Japan has three universities in the top 100: Tokyo Institute of Technology (14), University of Tokyo (23) and Kyoto University (47). Waseda University, Keio University, Osaka University and Hitotsobashi University feature in the overall list. The National University of Singapore (36) and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (44) are among the top 50. The sole Indian institute in the top 50 is the Indian Institute of Science (35). The Indian School of Business (148) just makes the list.

Results of surveys are always influenced by their design and composition. No doubt, the present one has also been similarly influenced. Notwithstanding these caveats, some trends are unmistakable.

Asian universities are increasingly becoming favourites of employers. And among these, the Chinese universities are shaping well. These universities are not only giving stiff competition to their counterparts in Japan but also to all the rest in Asia. The Peking University?s leap to the 11th rank has taken it almost to the top 10, which is clearly an impressive achievement.

What is particularly noteworthy is the achievement recorded by the Chinese universities in a short period of time. Till about 15 years ago, very few employers would have rated graduates from mainland universities as their top preferences. China was a destination for higher studies for only those aspiring to learn Mandarin and bequeathed with generous scholarships from the Chinese government. But the situation appears to be changing fast with Peking, Fudan, Shanghai Jiaotong and Tsinghua, giving their global competitors a run for their monies. These not only feature among the world?s top universities in terms of education and research parameters, but are also favourites with employers.

Apart from the efforts of these universities in securing higher standards, a few other factors have influenced their recognition. The first is, of course, Asia?s robust economic prospects and China?s own economic progress. With most global businesses pinning their hopes on Asian operations, the tendency is to hire graduates capable of performing better in Asian circumstances. These requirements are best met by students from Asian universities. Among these, with China clearly being the topmost in the radar of most global businesses, pass-outs from top Chinese universities are most sought after. The demand for these graduates is also high because of their knowledge of Mandarin. China?s economic rise has ensured that businesses all over the world pay heed to the importance of doing business in Mandarin. Such qualifications now are obvious additional assets.

The final factor influencing acceptability and recognition of Chinese universities in global yardsticks is their increasing internationalisation. Over the years, China?s best universities have invited foreign faculties and opened their doors to foreign students. They have also allowed foreign universities to set up campuses in the mainland. These have produced benefits purely from the sense of Chinese universities becoming more closely integrated in the global education system. It would hardly be surprising if in the near future Chinese universities become distinct favourites of potential graduates too, given how employers are fancying them.

The author is a visiting senior research fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies in the National University of Singapore. He can be reached at Views are personal

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First published on: 06-11-2012 at 21:47 IST