On March 14, 2006, there was workshop at the University of Colombo on the topic of establishing a labor market observatory (LMO) at the University Grants Commission of Sri Lanka. It was organized by IRQUE, a $50 million project to improve the relevance of quality of undergraduate education. The intended audience was the set of deans in humanities, social science and science faculties. The attendance was poor but the participation was enthusiastic. Many deans sent representatives. The deans should do that more often. Some of the younger representatives brought refreshing perspectives. Here are a few editorial bullets about the subject matter (not necessarily a report on the proceedings).
1. The LMO initiative should be outsourced with one highly-placed individual (e.g. a member of the University Grants Commission, or a competent manger hired on contract for a relatively high pay and high level of accountability) responsible for negotiating the contracts and enforcing the contracts.
Government institutions in Sri Lanka are by and large dysfunctional. For example, UGC and TVEC may be run by well meaning leaders but these organizations are not capable of handling new initiatives or even managing the existing responsibilities in some cases. The reasons are deep-rooted but it is no reason to magnify their inefficiencies by adding more units.
2. The project is named a LMO or labor market observatory, but it is more realistic to call it a graduate labor market information system like in the UK. sleepwell
General trends in the labour market are covered by others. The Department of Labor (DOL) publishes “The Labour Gazette” and the Tertiary and Vocational Education Commission (TVEC) publishes the Labour Market Bulletin. They cover general labour market conditions somewhat adequately. The Labour Gazette is not available on the Web, and TVEC puts some dated material on the Web. Both groups should make their publications more regular and widely available through the internet.
2. Higher education should leave reporting on general labor market conditions DOL and TVEC, and focus exclusively on degree holder or graduate information.
- Tracer studies of graduates
- Industry or establishment surveys
Both surveys should include questions that ask how the knowledge, skills and attitudes of graduates match with up reality. In all matters higher education should closely follow what DOL, TVEC, Census and Statistics, Jobsnet, Board of Investments, foreign Employment Bureau and others are doing and try not to reinvent the wheel.
3. Labor market data are typically published as national aggregates and projections that are useful for national level policy making, but it is dangerous to rely exclusively on those projections to, say, plan new degree programs.
Dr. Mawalgedera, Dean, Applied Science, at Rajarata University, asked whether the proposed LMO would help her decide, for example, about introducing a program of fisheries and aquaculture. The answer is that it is very unlikely that a centralized survey can give that kind of information, but a LMO should be able to undertake targeted studies on specific questions such as those. UGC and the LMO contractor should agree on the provision for 10 or more such studies for a year. The TVEC already does targeted studies on training needs of various sectors. SLICTA, Sri Lanka ICT Association recently published a comprehensive study about ICT labour market.
4. To make the data useful for deans and heads of departments, the data should be presented at the academic program level. It is difficult to provide printed documents at that level of detail. Therefore all summaries should be distributed annually as CD-ROMS.
For example, if the department of chemistry at the U Colombo wants to know how its chemistry majors are performing, the head or the secretary should have a CD-Rom that enables him/her to select, say, (a) chemistry as the desired academic programs; (b) a set of other benchmark programs as the desired set of comparables; (c) percent with job offers at graduation as the desired variable, say, and press enter to get a table that gives the percent of their graduates with job offers from the University of Colombo along with the data for other programs. The user should be able to slice and dice data by any variable (sex, graduation year etc) that he/she desires.
Since survey data contain personal information, steps should be taken to ensure the privacy of the respondents. The policies of Science resource Division at the US NSF should be studied in this regard.
5. The Education Forum, as a non-governmental public interest body, will try to keep track of these expenditures.
In around 2001, ADB allocated about $2 million for an improved labour market information system at the TVEC. To date there are no outward signs of progress. (This allocation was part of larger project valued at around $50 million.) Now roughly about the same amount is to be spent on a labor market observatory for the higher education system.( Again as part of a larger project valued at about $50 million.) The Tertiary education community should keep watch over these efforts and make sure the money is not wasted. The Education Forum will try to do its part.
Survey of Earned Doctorates, US NSF
Graduate Labor Market of UK
Gamage, Sujata and Bergman, Maia (2000). Using the National Science Foundation’s Survey of Earned Doctorates for Institutional Research at the Academic Program Level, Proceedings of Association of Institutional Research Forum 2000, Cincinnati, OH, May 21–24.