Mongolia is rich in many things; history, tradition, and gold. Our country is quite rich in the number of universities as well. Mongolia’s universities may lack quality but definitely make up for that in numbers.
Currently, there are 16 state and 81 private universities in Mongolia for a population of just three million, which is a dramatic decrease from over 200 in 2013.
Two months ago, Mongolia elected a president whose formal education extended to eighth grade. This had sparked much discussion in Mongolia, not only about the importance of education, but also about the meaning of education. Diplomas or certificates may define or describe someone’s education. But even more so than a parchment with a signature, education should prepare our citizens for challenges in life in this rapidly changing world.
Mongolia’s university to population ratio is interesting. With a population approximately 400 times smaller than China’s, but the number of universities is only 17 times less. Despite having a great number of universities, the National University of Mongolia (NUM), one of the country’s most prestigious universities, ranked 2,577th in a world university ranking by Times Higher Education World Universities Ranking in 2012, the highest ranking in the history of NUM.
Based on the statistics above, Mongolia is leading the world in the number of universities per 100 people. Using information on the numbers of universities from Webometric and population statistics from Worldometer, the ratios of universities per 100 people are calculated as follows:
- Japan: 985 universities/Population of 126 millions = 0.00078
- South Korea: 375/50.7 millions = 0.00074
- India: 4004/1.34 billions = 0.0003
- Thailand: 180/68.3 millions = 0.0002
- Australia: 199/24.7 millions = 0.0008
- Mongolia: 97/3.1 millions = 0.003
This means that Mongolia has at least four times more universities per 100 people than Japan, South Korea and Australia; 10 times more than India; 15 times more than Thailand; and three times more than the United States.
You may wonder why there are so many universities in Mongolia. The answer is the demand that created the business behind university education. University admission in Mongolia is determined by scores of the university entrance exam. The handful of quality universities set higher thresholds, but the rest have low to no requirements. Offering “higher” education without standards became a business model for many universities. The popularity and availability of universities mean that twice as many high school graduates go to universities than polytechnic and vocational schools, although these schools may better serve the students by providing them with skills that employers look for in a potential recruit.
According to latest education data, 99.7 percent of Mongolians aged 15 and over can read and write, and more than 55 percent of the population has higher education diplomas and degrees. Despite the high literacy and higher education rate, the country’s unemployment rate in 2017 is 9.7 percent.
The Mongolian Human Development Report 2016 by the government of Mongolia and UNDP said the quality of all level of education is becoming an issue. Quality of higher education is not meeting the needs of job requirements in the market, which results in higher levels of unemployment rate among young people with higher education degrees than youth without a degree.
A report published by the Mongolian Consortium of Universities in 2016 surveyed participants on the question: how would you rate the higher education system and its organizational structure in Mongolia? Twenty-six percent of participants answered “insufficient”, while 65.6 percent answered, “Ok, but needs improvement”. When asked: how would you rate the student evaluation system? Twenty-five percent of the survey takers said, “It is insufficient in evaluating students reasonably”, while 62.1 percent answered, “It needs development”.
Of course, in a free market economy of competition and survival, one can still gain qualifications and have a successful career, but that is not the case for the majority of university graduates in Mongolia. Parents today push their kids to enroll in a university of questionable quality – along with thousands of others – and these students graduate with no job waiting for them, albeit with a diploma with their name on it.
What is the value of higher education if it does not help student prepare for their path in life?
We Mongolians have learned from our discussions about our new president that education is not truly about a diploma or any kind of certification. Education for the vanity of having a university diploma is worse than no formal education. What we desperately need now and in the future is a system of life-long learning that helps our citizens find fulfilling careers, meet the challenges of a rapidly changing world, and build a more inclusive society. When we stop chasing university diplomas that lead to nowhere, and start considering our citizens’ needs and educate them accordingly, we will see a brighter future over the horizon.