Notes from global summit on career pathways

Patrick S. Osmer — October 13, 2011

Pat Osmer

At the end of September, I participated in the Council of Graduate Schools’ fifth annual global summit on graduate education. About 35 education leaders from 17 countries representing all continents took part in the meeting in Hong Kong, which was focused on career outcomes for graduate students, including tracking and building pathways. These are topics that I know are of great interest to Ohio State faculty and graduate students, and I want to share with you three of the main points that I took away from that meeting. 

1. Career paths for graduate students are a main topic in graduate education around the world.

2. The global emphasis and investment in university education outside the U.S. is stunningly large and strongly correlated with the pace of economic development in countries.

3. The U.S. cannot take for granted the world-leading position in research and graduate education that it has held since the end of World War II.

First, career paths for graduate students are a main global topic in graduate education around the world. Universities are assessing their graduate programs and developing new initiatives. The governments (national or state) that fund graduate education are assessing the need for graduate degree holders and how they should be trained and educated. It’s interesting to note that except for the U.S., and to some extent, the U.K. (where significant changes are just occurring), universities around the world are almost entirely government funded. In most cases I know about, tuition charges are low or nil.

Second, the global emphasis and investment in university education outside the U.S. is stunningly large and strongly correlated with the pace of economic development in countries. China and Korea are well known examples of massive investment in university education. Indonesia, Malaysia, and Vietnam are beginning to build up their universities. In South America, Brazil and Chile are committing billions of dollars for human capital development. Turkey is building up its universities.

The U.S. cannot take for granted the world-leading position in research and graduate education that it has held since the end of World War II. I observed that virtually all countries represented at the meeting were developing or improving their graduate programs with the explicit goal of strengthening their economic development and their competitiveness in the global knowledge economy. Countries typically stress engineering and related applied programs such as business in the early stages of their development as they build up their infrastructure and their ability to move up the value ladder of manufacturing and service activities from low-end manufacturing enabled by low labor and production costs. Then, as the countries achieve developed status and wish to compete at the highest levels in the global economy, they broaden the range of their university programs to education, to basic physical and life sciences, to social and behavioral sciences, and to arts and humanities.

Two examples of many possible ones help illustrate this trend.

Australia has had universities with world-class research and graduate programs for many decades. In recent years, Australia has built up multiple connections with Asia, with a correspondingly large increase in the number of international graduate students. The Australian government has done a long-range planning study of its workforce needs. The study demonstrated a national need for more graduate degree holders to stay competitive in global knowledge-based economy. However, the Australian representatives commented that the study has not been accompanied by increased funding. Nonetheless the Australian graduate deans reported on multiple efforts to broaden the training of their doctoral students to include professional skills. The University of Queensland has just recently launched its ‘Career Advantage’ program to provide specific professional preparation in three different areas for its doctoral students.

These are activities that have their counterparts in the U.S., first with the increasing interest in professional and transferrable skills for graduate students like those associated with professionally oriented master’s programs. This is a focus for the Graduate School, and I wrote about it in May. Also, we know that graduate degree holders are essential to support the projected U.S. workforce needs (Future of Graduate Education, 2010).

China, of course, continues its rapid development of its graduate programs and is now second only to the U.S. in terms of degree production. The top universities (e.g., Tsing Hua, Peking, Shanghai Jiao Tong) are striving to reach top rank in the whole world via strategic partnerships with world-leading universities and investment in their own people and facilities. They are starting to attract some of their best people back to China for work in the academic and corporate worlds.

In Hong Kong, it was interesting to see firsthand the meaning of the phrase ‘One country, two systems’ that is used to define the relationship of China and Hong Kong. Hong Kong University is definitely different from the ones I visited in Shanghai and Beijing. First of all, its main language is English and second, half its faculty are international. Indeed, its graduate dean stated that an explicit mission for HKU is continue to be very internationally oriented as Hong Kong is integrated into China in the long term. In addition to multiple international partners and agreements, HKU has started some joint graduate degree programs with Imperial College and King’s College London.

What does all this mean for Ohio State?

First of all, I’m pleased to report that we are a bit ahead of the curve because of the doctoral program review, our on-going focus on the quality of doctoral education, and our professional master’s initiatives. Also, several of our graduate programs and colleges are actively pursuing important partnerships with universities in other countries.

Going forward, it is important for all of us to continue our work on career tracking and career pathways for graduate students. Collecting data from our alumni and graduate students who leave our programs is important, and the Graduate School has a convenient portal for our graduate programs to do this electronically. Graduate School portal

We also need to be aware of career pathways for graduate students and to consciously build this component into our graduate programs. The interest that’s been shown in our Versatile Ph.D. subscription and other alternative career events on campus are just a few indicators of the interest that graduate students and faculty alike have in this area. The CGS Career Pathways project will provide us with invaluable information about this crucial topic.

I’d like to hear your ideas with an eye toward helping Ohio State make more progress in this area. I look forward to reading your comments.

Patrick S. Osmer is vice provost for graduate studies and dean of the Graduate School at Ohio State. He is also currently serving as chair of the board of directors for the Council of Graduate Schools. Osmer was chair of the Ohio State astronomy department from 1993-2006.

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