Low- and middle-income countries in East Asia need to make their higher education systems more responsive to labor market demands and the economy as a whole to climb up the income ladder, says a new World Bank East Asia and Pacific Regional Report released today.

Across the region, higher education institutions can realize their full potential by providing skills and research to spur productivity and innovation, considered critical to achieving growth in a competitive global environment.

Titled “Putting Higher Education to Work: Skills and Research for Growth in East Asia”, the report sheds light on the functional skills that workers must possess to be employable and to support firms’ competitiveness and productivity. It also examines how higher education systems can produce research that will help apply, adapt and develop new technologies that will drive growth.

Impressive gains have been made in expanding access to higher education over the past two to three decades in the region, with enrollment rates rising to 20 percent or more in many countries from very low levels. The greater challenge overall is improving quality, to address vulnerabilities in developing and deploying enough of the right type of skills and research.

“With aging populations, developing economies in the region face the challenge of achieving growth led by gains in productivity. The significance of higher education will increase as countries work to escape the middle income trap,”

said James W. Adams, World Bank East Asia and Pacific Regional Vice President. According to the report, higher education institutions in developing East Asia do not sufficiently provide their graduates with the skills that firms need.

“Employers in both manufacturing and services are looking for problem-solving, communications, management and other skills that will support higher productivity. Yet employer perceptions and wage skill premiums point to gaps in these skills in newly hired professionals,”

said World Bank Lead Economist Emanuela di Gropello, lead author of the report. “The mismatch between the skills that firms need and that higher education institutions produce may mean longer lags in getting a good job after graduation — lags that may frustrate expectations among the young,” said Emmanuel Jimenez, World Bank Human Development Sector Director, East Asia and Pacific Region

For more information, please visit: www.worldbank.org/eap/highered

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