Education should go beyond the needs of mining companies

By B.Khash-Erdene

Mongolia is currently leading the world in terms of rapid economic expansion due to its vast mineral wealth, but the country needs to ensure that it has a future after the minerals have been depleted. To realize this, Mongolia needs a productive and skilled workforce in all of its industries. Mongolia needs to make long term plans. Its education plan is perhaps the most important.

High quality education is vital if Mongolia is to utilize its mineral wealth efficiently and effectively so that the people of the country benefit from it in an inclusive and sustainable way, and avoid the negative impacts that were brought about by rapid prosperity elsewhere.

Mongolia’s education sector suffered from underfunding and poor management after its transition to democracy and a market economy. According to the Oxford Business Group’s (OGB) 2012 report, public spending fell from about 20 percent of the national budget during the Soviet era, to 11.86 percent in 2011. The student-to-faculty ratio rose and essentials such as textbooks dwindled. The quality of the education provided by many institutions fell and they became almost exclusively dependent on tuition fees. As noted in the report, “Long term capital spending on assets or the building of research facilities was impossible. The major institutions lived hand-to-mouth.”

Recognizing the need for greater investment in education so as to improve the quality, the current “reform” government has allocated 20 percent of the budget to education.

The Ministry of Education has been looking for an effective education model since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Over the past two decades Mongolia has tested a number of replacements for the top-down schooling ideology that was dominant for about 60 years under Soviet rule. Reforms have taken place. For example, in 2008 basic education was extended from 10 years to 12 years. Consequently, some improvements have been made. The country has achieved a primary completion rate of 100 percent and the primary and secondary education systems have seen advances in recent years. But many of the old teaching methods remain. These methods are largely regimented and very much focused on rote memorization.

As noted in the Oxford Business Group’s report, “The transition to more open, child-centric methods is a work in progress and incomplete, and students tend to complete their schooling lacking certain critical reasoning skills and are less well-rounded.”

Higher education in Mongolia is one of the least effective among the education sectors in delivering good results. Mongolians receive high numbers of degrees and qualifications but many are unable to find work in their field. Around a third of graduates were unable to find employment in 2011. They are told that they are either not skilled enough in their respective fields or they chose fields that are not in demand.

But despite the lack of employment for graduates, demand for higher education continues to grow. In 1990, around 14,000 students received bachelor’s degrees in Mongolia. This figure rose to around 90,000 in 2002. Higher learning institutions have been increasing in number to keep up with the demand among young people for higher education degrees, but the quality of the graduates of these institutions is inconsistent. In an attempt to eliminate low quality institutions, over the past decade the government has taken measures to close down and merge a number of colleges and universities. The number of higher learning institutions fell from around 200 in 2002 to 113 in 2010.

Due to the current nature of Mongolia’s development, which is focused on mineral extraction, the labor market is mainly seeking graduates with qualifications in the fields of engineering, construction, banking, finance, and information technology.  As a result, the demand for higher education in these sectors has been increasing rapidly, but Mongolia’s higher education institutes provide limited places for students in these fields of study. This is perhaps because there is a need for the people of Mongolia to think beyond the needs of the mining industry.

Peter Morrow, the Chairman of the American University of Mongolia is quoted in the OGB report as saying, “Education needs to go beyond engineering and accounting for big mining companies.” He noted that “If the country really keeps growing that fast, not only the mining industry, but other areas like the environment, and social and regulatory issues in banking, will need qualified attention.”

The OBG notes in its report that the area of education that is likely to have the most direct impact in terms of increasing employment rates of graduates is the technical sector, known as technical and vocational education and training (TVET). “The government, corporations and citizens alike, are aware of the mismatch between levels of education and available jobs. Hence, offering more courses directly relevant to the growth industries – primarily mining and construction – is one way of achieving supply-demand balance,” the report observed.

TVET has been around for a number of years in Mongolia, but as with education in general, it has suffered from a lack of funding and outdated teaching methods. It also restricts entry into popular areas of study, for example the number of students studying animal husbandry is limited to 100, while the number of welders is limited to 1,500, and the number of builders is limited to 1,000. These limits seem to be set on an arbitrary basis, with no regard for the needs of the industry.

The TVET sector has received aid from several international donors, including the Millennium Challenge Account which has been working in Mongolia since 2009 on the construction and renovation of TVET schools, and other activities. A total of 41.6 million USD has been allocated in government grants to build five schools and reconstruct 17.

The Mongolian government has been very supportive of foreign partnerships in the education sector. In 2011 the American and British education systems were introduced through Cambridge International Examinations (CIE), an international provider of educational programs and assessments which operates in 160 countries. In 2012, the Ministry of Education and Science signed a Mongolia-Cambridge agreement whereby CIE will provide educational services, assist the reform process, help bring bilingual education to state schools, and bring the country’s education system in line with CIE standards. Several other projects have been implemented in Mongolia with the aim of reforming the education sector, including a 4.8 million USD grant donated by Japan in May 2012 for the government to re-establish the Teacher’s Institute for Higher Learning.

Despite all of the efforts so far, much remains to be done to improve local education standards and address the issues facing students.

The OBG suggests that the status of higher education institutions as private or public institutions, and the recognition of their non-profit status, is another thing that has to be settled. Tuition fees are another issue. University fees are around 2 million MNT (1,450 USD) per year, on average, but the average annual salary is around 4,800 USD. Most families cannot afford to set aside a third of their annual income to pay for a child’s higher education.

That said, when asked about the obstacles students in Mongolia face and what they need, the President of the Mongolia University of Science and Techonology’s Student Union, Myagmardorj said, “What students are now looking for is not cheaper education, but good quality education. I and many others are willing to pay for quality, but the current standards are too low. In a typical lecture at our university, the lecturer reads chapters from a course book, while around 70 students take notes. The classes have no depth and no technical knowledge or hands-on experience to give to the students. We want to learn, we want contribute to our country’s prosperity and future, but we cannot do it with the current system.”

Short URL: http://ubpost.mongolnews.mn/?p=3427

Posted by on Mar 24 2013. Filed under Community, Opinion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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