Filling in the blanks
OBG talks to Peter Morrow, Chairman, American University of Mongolia
To what extent will further privatisation help to increase educational standards?
MORROW: Mongolia is the world’s fastest growing economy, and that pace of expansion will likely continue over the next two decades, automatically creating a high demand for education and respective services. The need for education is already outstripping current supply, and corporations are now more demanding in terms of the required skill sets of future graduates. Increasing private participation in the sector will certainly help to improve the current public education system. With more foreign institutions there will be more opportunities through foreign exchange programmes and dual courses, which will benefit local students. Our goal is to establish a first-class university that teaches locally but thinks globally.
How much more room for international universities do you see in Mongolia?
MORROW: Given the strong demand for graduates, I certainly see more space for additional international universities. This would be very beneficial and economically cheaper for Mongolians who will then be able to access the same education at home that they can receive abroad. There has to be a clear and transparent system in place to guarantee an adequate level of quality at these institutions. We are expecting to see more players enter the market in the upcoming years.
The government is allocating 20% of the budget to education. Where do you see the biggest need for that money to be spent?
MORROW: The primary and secondary systems have developed well over the last 22 years. Tertiary education, however, has not been as successful, so this is the sector that will need more attention. There are a lot of opportunities to do joint-teaching and joint-standard programmes with foreign universities in fields such as sociology, anthropology, engineering and maths, which create opportunities for the government to get involved and eventually promote such exchanges. There are also inequalities in access to tertiary education; 75% of graduates in Mongolia are women as men are still needed to oversee herding activities in the countryside, which creates a serious demographic imbalance. Scholarship programmes that specifically target boys have been launched. With the new government still in formation, it remains to be seen where they will put their priorities in terms of reforming the educational system.
How would you rate the level of communication between industry and educational sector?
MORROW: I don’t think there has been very significant communication between the two parties so far, but this seems to be changing. Mining group Rio Tinto, for example, engages considerably with university students to source their future employees. It will be very important to have a sufficiently qualified human capital base to support the growth of those industries at a reasonable cost. 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. Education needs to go beyond engineering and accounting for big mining companies. We are now analysing, in cooperation with industrial players, how the tertiary system works and where the gaps are in order to improve the system.
Which sectors will need the most graduates?
MORROW: Obviously the mining sector will need skilled people. These companies are mostly private, and they will find innovative ways to get their human capital by approaching educational institutions to create solutions. Of course, we will also see a lot of demand in areas such as finance and ICT. The big issue, however, is to get educated people to engage in other areas, like nongovernmental organisations, for example, which deal with upcoming social change and environmental issues.
Those will be areas of great importance in the future, as they will create an overall balanced environment.