The robots are coming and Asian universities are not ready

The robots are coming and Asian universities are not ready
Hi everyone, I'm here for your jobs. Source: Shutterstock

The 4th Industrial Revolution is breaking through at unprecedented speed and disrupting almost every industry in every country.

Yet, most Asian schools do not yet have a full strategy in place to prepare for it, according to a recently released survey by Microsoft.

From October to November 2016, the major tech company polled 1,494 business decision makers from 13 Asia-Pacific markets, including 265 respondents from higher education institutions and universities for its Microsoft Asia Digital Transformation Study.

The findings paint a less than prime picture of the education sector: Less than a quarter (23 percent) of educational institutions in Asia have a full digital strategy in place. More than half (53 percent) are in progress with specific strategy while close to a quarter (24 percent) have limited or no strategy in place.

“Digital disruption has resulted in a shift in how work is being approached and conducted, and it is important that education institutions transform in order to equip students with future-ready skills, such as honing their creativity and critical thinking capabilities,” Microsoft Asia Pacific director of education Don Carlson said in a statement.

And massively disrupt they will, according to research. One study showed that up to 47 percent of the jobs in the United States will be threatened by automation – in other countries around the world, the figure goes up to 85 percent (Ethiopia).

A garment factory in Sisophon, Cambodia. Source: Shutterstock

Asian countries that bank on low-wage labour (the “routine, repetitive and predictable”) are at high risk of massive unemployment in the next two decades – an International Labour Organisation (ILO) study last year found more than half (56 percent) of the salaried workforce from Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam stand to lose their jobs as technologies including 3D printing, nanotechnology and robotic automation could disrupt the region’s manufacturing sector.

And with less than a quarter of the education sector ready to equip their students with the new skillsets for their future job roles that look set to change radically, there’s a lot of catching up to do.

But this slow start could be due Asian schools catching up to something else: Its massive economic growth over the last decade. As its middle class grew, so did its citizens’ ability to send their children to school.

“The biggest problem I can think of is the lack of both physical and human resources due to the rapid expansion of student enrollment in most of the middle-income countries in Asia. The priority is given more to enrol the students, and the quality improvement of the learning experiences is not necessarily considered as a top priority,” Akiyoshi Yonezawa, Professor and Director of the Office of Institutional Research at Japan’s Tohoku University, wrote in an email to Asian Correspondent.

Analysts believe the best way to keep our children’s jobs safe, is for schools to teach them the right skills to robot-proof their careers – to futurists like Martin Ford, author of Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future, this means meeting the requirements for jobs that involve “genuine creativity”, “building complex relationships with people” and high unpredictability.

This is by no means a huge feat to be achieved by educators worldwide, but particularly so by those in less developed nations, who are at a disadvantage compared to more advanced economies.

Education leaders in Microsoft’s survey list cyber threats and security concerns, lack of leadership and a digitally skilled workforce, data privacy concerns and uncertain economic environment as the top barriers the industry faces.

To Yonezawa, the biggest threat schools in lesser developed Asian nations come in the form of their governments’ control over information at cyberspace. Apart from Japan, none of the countries in the region has completely free access to the Internet, according to the Freedom on the Net 2017 study by Freedom House.

… To make these control minimum is essential to enhance the positive attitudes to the Industry 4.0 by society, and then higher education institution.

This article first appeared on our sister site Asian Correspondent

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