Business Times

Creating graduates who are employable for all including the private sector

By Quintus Perera

Not only the private sector, graduates are needed for other sectors too, indicated Ms Dilani Alagaratnam, President, Group HR, Legal and Secretarial, John Keells Holdings PLC in her remarks on a presentation made by Prof Malik Ranasinghe, Vice-Chancellor, University of Moratuwa. Prof Ranasinghe was addressing a group of top corporate personnel on the topic "Challenges and Opportunities for the Employable Graduates" held at the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce Auditorium last week.

Ms Alagaratnam said that graduates are engaged in not only with the private sector, but some of them would be self-employed, some of them go to the educational sector and some would become academics. Therefore, producing graduates should be on these broader perspectives.

One of the major matters discussed, under challenges were the need for soft skills, English and being ICT literate. But a consensus emerged that lack of English knowledge is not a major barrier for the graduates to be employed in the private sector.

In fact, Dr Anura Ekanayake, Chairman, CCC who presided over the presentation presenting himself as an example said that he did everything in Sinhala until he commenced his post-graduate level education, and with humility he said now he has gained a good English knowledge matched to anyone else in general terms.

He said that when he was attached to Unilever, he has recruited many management trainees from the rural areas and they have picked up English in almost three months. He said that they have dispelled the complexity by requesting these trainees "Api danna widhiyata Ingreesiyen kathaakaramu". (Let us speak English with the knowledge we have.)

Some participants also agreed that they did not find the language as a barrier to recruit graduates and Prof Ranasinghe too said that their degree courses are conducted in English and training the students in English is not a problem.

Prof Ranasinghe spoke in general and with particular emphasis on Moratuwa University in discussing the base of course content of the degree courses and why graduates find difficulty in obtaining employment and their degree of employability.

Though he said that obtaining jobs for their graduates is not difficult, his own statistics with regard to Moratuwa University indicated that going by the 2008 and 2009 figures in Information Technology, the unemployment figure is as high as 16.7%, while Fashion Design in 2008 indicated a figure of 17.1% while for the same study course the figure for 2009 is 29.3%.

Overall the unemployment figures for the Moratuwa University in 2009 was 5.1% against 3.1 % in 2008
The entire presentation of Prof Ranasinghe was based on figures and information of the University of Moratuwa and the unavailability of employment or unemployment figures of other universities appeared to be a shortfall in the discussion on 'Challenges and opportunities for the employable graduates (in general) as figures of other universities would have been ideal for comparison on the actual situation.
Prof Ranasinghe considering the student as the raw material said that they are intelligent and eager to learn, and competitive. The students, he said are multi-talented and are equipped with diverse backgrounds and competencies and one of the challenges are the insufficient knowledge in English and ICT and the lack of social skills.

He said that the industry requirements are academically sound and technically competent graduates, with soft skills, English and ICT literate. They should also be team players and flexible. These graduates should be able to perform from day one when they are employed.

He discussed the compatibility as the University and industry does not understand the capabilities of graduates and does not train or support them to become entrepreneurial employees. The reason for this lack of understanding, Prof Ranasinghe said could be attributed because industry and university work independent of each other in training the graduate.

He said that an 'Entrepreneurial University could be fulfilling the core activities and solving problems of the society and industry by converting the intellectual capital that the university posses to business opportunities.

He identified the opportunities to the university and the industry to interact in student based opportunities; transfer of knowledge/ research and development based opportunities and consultancy and service based opportunities. He suggested this interaction between the university and the industry by having visiting and guest lecturers from the industry. Also there could be periodical curriculum revision.

Student based opportunities on the interaction could be industrial training and visits and student monitoring. There could also be career guidance and industry focused events. There could be department industry consultative boards and recognition by professional institutions - local and foreign. Opportunities should be provided for student research projects and for innovations and inventions.
University Research symposia, R &D incubators, knowledge transfer / R & D in post graduate course and training programmes, contract research, industry sponsored R & D centres and industry sponsored endowed chairs/ fellowships could be part of university industry interactions.

On the sustainability side Prof Ranasinghe said that the university has the students for four years while the graduates are industry's main resource for the next 30 to 35 years and therefore the industry must take the responsibility for activities that improve quality and relevance of graduates. Increase the knowledge transfer and R&D in postgraduate programmes and students; training programmes and industry based projects, he suggested.

He also recommended industry sponsored research labs, research programmes and chairs. In this sphere, Prof Ranasinghe requested the industry to tell them the problems and the industry would be surprised with what the universities could do for the industry.

There could be consultancy and services on a non-profit and cost recovery basis and an entrepreneurial university could undertake activities over and above the normal workload on business opportunities and to share earnings with the staff and invest the earnings to improve quality.

With regard to the income derived by the Moratuwa University by its entrepreneurial activities, Prof Ranasinghe said in 2009:

- Postgraduate courses and training derived Rs 129.4 million; consultancy services Rs 77.5 million; industry initiatives Rs 46.8 million; university company Rs 57.5 million; total enterprise Rs 311.2 million and recurrent budget Rs 717.9 million.

He said that they have encountered some legal barriers in dealing with some entrepreneurial matters and they have been precluded from adopting some activities that were time tested and carried out successfully in overseas universities.

It was concluded that all university graduates could be employable with the understanding of the requirements of the society and industry with proper interaction and adjusting course content to the needs of the society and industry structured on best principles.

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