Are students ready for a flat world?

Preparing UK university students to engage in a globalised economy

The rise in tuition fees and the resultant financial burden on university students within England has seen a growing emphasis placed on the importance of securing paid employment on graduation in the context of an increasingly globalised and multi-culture economy. Globalisation has contributed to fiercer competition: employment opportunities that enable UK students to achieve the minimum threshold to start repaying their tuition loan and meeting financial exigencies are challenging, and this competition is likely to increase with the UK aiming to recruit the best talents from the rest of the world to fuel its economy.

The world’s globalised and multi-cultured economy no longer confines to specific geographical locations. This presents consequences for how university graduates are to be positioned for jobs within an economy that has taken a much more global dimension. For instance, most higher education institutions in the past were funded by states to serve the purpose of the nation in providing a work force that will serve local economies or advance the cause of regional and national development. Today, the dynamic is different and the world is sometimes  referred to as a global village or, as Friedman said, a flat world with many people being able to access jobs in different regions and from different geographical locations. Consequently, it is imperative for different nations, universities and their graduates to be able to engage in this evolving economic context in an attempt to boost both graduate employability and national economies. The idea of graduate engagement is not limited to graduates finding jobs but also includes their ability to retain them in a rapidly evolving economy.

The need to explore the subject of graduate employability in the wider context of globalisation is of much relevance to the UK as it seeks to be an outward facing country post-Brexit. One of the employers interviewed by ICM for a British Council project asserted: “as an employer I value employees who can show they are able to work effectively with customers, clients and businesses from a range of different countries”. In 2015 High Flyers’ annual research showed that 60% of employers were actively seeking to diversify recruitment targets such as recruiting from a wider range of backgrounds and nationality. A diverse workforce might provide businesses with leverage to expand their targets and outreach. It’s not just a multinational workforce that brings advantage though: it’s just as important to have nationals with global and multi-culture competences who are capable of operating in a complex economic framework. The British Council report asserts that:

work to broaden young people’s horizons and teach them about our globalised world is vital if the UK is to compete in the global economy. Unless we improve the way in which we support young people to think more globally, through teaching in [universities], the UK is in danger of being left behind by emerging economies such as China, India and Brazil.”

The overarching question is: What can UK universities do to help their students prepare better for competitiveness in a global and multi-culture economy?

With the growing globalised, multi-culture and flattened nature of the economy, graduates of every work of life and nationality seeking jobs will continue to compete within and beyond their geographical locations.  The subject of graduate employability can no longer be limited to graduates finding jobs in the local community. My own research shows that a local job market can have a very limited size, which means that it can easily become saturated with too many applicants competing for fewer job vacancies, hence the need for universities to train students who can also trade their skills, abilities and knowledge abroad or be competitive in the global market. UK universities therefore have an urgent responsibility to prepare their graduates for this global challenge. Given the lack of adequacy in UK graduates’ ability  to engage in a global and multi-culture economy,  the authors of the British Council research made the following worrisome prediction:

“it is reasonable to predict that highly skilled (and highly paid) jobs will be increasingly taken by young people in countries other than the UK that offer more global learning throughout their educational systems (or by privileged or lucky young people in the UK who have access to quality global learning.”

Whilst it is not yet clear precisely what constitutes global learning that could help position UK graduates to engage and compete in a globalised and multi-culture economy, it can be said that higher attainment alone is not enough to make UK graduates more attractive as potential employees. Undoubtedly, the skills, abilities and experiences UK graduates require to engage and work in a global and multi-culture economy are also different from those that were required a decade ago when Friedman’s book was published and the idea and reality of a global economy was still in its infancy. There is therefore a need for a paradigm shift in universities, and it cannot be business as usual if UK graduates are not to lag behind other graduates from developed countries in their ability to engage and compete in the current globalised and multi-culture economy. As the British economy and other developed economies become more globalised than ever, global employability skills are emerging as one of the crucial determinants, not only of business success and national economic growth, but also the ability of graduates to find jobs. Thus the need for UK universities to strategize and implement mechanisms that can prepare graduates to find footholds in the global and multi-culture economy cannot be over looked.

Marcellus Mbah

Mbah, M. F. (2014). The Dilemma of Graduate Unemployment within a Context of Poverty, Scarcity and Fragile Economy: Are there Lessons for the University?. International Journal of Economics and Finance, 6(12), p27.

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