Universities from 38 countries to tackle youth unemployment

14 October 2014

Given rising youth unemployment, how are universities responding to improve the employability of their future graduates?

To discuss this issue, some 100 heads of universities and higher education institutions from Asian and European countries will be gathering in the Netherlands for the 3rd ASEM Rectors’ Conference (ARC3). Themed, Universities, Businesses and You: For a Sustainable Future, this biennial conference is organised by the Asia-Europe Foundation together with the ASEAN University Network. It will be hosted this year by the Netherlands’ second oldest University, the University of Groningen (1614).

About 21.4 per cent of the population under 25 within the EU27 zone are unemployed, according to the latest figures from EuroStat. Similarly in Asia, the International Labour Organization projects the average youth unemployment rate for 2012 at 11 per cent.

"To meet the rising youth unemployment, universities should provide an academic training that allows graduates to have better prospects for a lifetime of employability," says Prof Sibrandes Poppema, President of the University of Groningen.

Co-operation is key. Prof Poppema continues: "By organising quality exchange programmes, universities can equip students with invaluable intercultural skills that will serve them and their employers worldwide. Just think of the companies with offices in various parts of the world."

Universities also need to co-operate with businesses and to increase contacts between employers and future graduates. “Co-operation between businesses and universities means that we have to think about precisely what we are educating students for. The upcoming ARC3 will address exactly that: are we just training students for a job tomorrow, or are we educating people for life?” says Prof Poppema.

For the first time, students will be included in the ARC conversation to give their perspectives on the youth employability agenda. Students will be meeting for the 1st Asia-Europe Students’ Forum prior to the ARC3 meeting. They will have the opportunity to present their recommendations and discuss them with the heads of universities present.

The conclusions of the conference will be shared with the upcoming 4th Asia-Europe Meeting of Ministers of Education (ASEMME4), to be held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 2013.