Competitiveness of university graduates in modern market conditions

Kadisha Nurduldinovna, what do you think makes a competitive graduate?

One of the most important issues occupying the field of education and policy makers of the state, is how university graduates can be competitive in the labor market.  Because today’s world is rapidly changing in almost all spheres of life modern conditions dictate new rules of conduct in the labor market, and this means that even more attention is paid to the creating competitive graduates. These societal and labor market conditions determine not only the skills graduates need to develop, but also highlight what specialists will be in demand today and tomorrow.  Competitive graduates are necessary for the future well-being of the country, and competitiveness will determine where we will be tomorrow. In one of his speeches, N. Nazarbayev noted that “youth is a key factor in the competitiveness of our country in terms of energy, knowledge, and patriotism on which the future of Kazakhstan depends. Today there is a competition not only between states, but also between individuals. And the country that has a creative generation that prioritizes science and education will not lag behind and will win. ”

It is difficult not to agree with this statement. I think that our youth also understands the importance of the tasks they face and, of course, their responsibility for themselves and the country.  It is easy to believe in this when I look at Nazarbayev University graduates, whose fifth graduation tооk place recently.

The expectations of future employers keep increasing, and the competitiveness of successful candidates is determined by a variety of factors, not just their professional competence.  Professional knowledge should be combined with highly developed communication skills, purposefulness, quick learning, adaptability, independence, activity, creative and critical thinking, as well as constant striving for self-development. It is also important for graduates to remember that in addition to professional competency that their human and personal qualities are also of great importance.  They need to be able to work in a team, to help and support their comrades, and to be socially responsible.

Today, higher education institutions are not only tasked with providing good knowledge to students but also with laying the foundation for their graduates’ future professional trajectories, so that they may successfully adapt to the ever-changing and increasingly competitive labor market. Understanding the importance of competitiveness, we highlight this theme for discussion at the VIII Annual Eurasian Forum of Higher Education Leaders, which will be held on June 6-7, 2019 at Nazarbayev University. In particular, we have prepared a series of interesting sessions related to the main topic of the forum – “Graduates ready for the future”. 

This year we plan to discuss the ability of higher education institutions to prepare students for the changing nature of the labor market, as well how institutions can develop the potential of future leaders and responsible citizens. Today’s institutions are challenged to maximize the value they bring to students, which includes internationalizing their experience, providing opportunities for participation in research, lifelong learning, and having strong partnerships with leading companies. These and other issues will be discussed during the forum sessions, where leaders of educational, business and government organizations, researchers and employers will share their experiences on how educational institutions can meet new challenges.

What factors influence the increase of competitiveness of university graduates in terms of labor market conditions?

I’d say that there are a bunch of factors. Firstly, at Nazarbayev University we prioritize quality education.   Our model of strategic development was based on partnerships with leading universities that ranked among the best in the world. Each school and research center of the University was established in cooperation with these world-class universities and research centers. Education at our university takes place in English. We were the first university in Kazakhstan to operate on the principles of autonomy and academic freedom. In order to create an effective academic environment and develop the country’s human capital, the best national and international researchers from different countries are invited to teach at the University. Today the faculty of the University and its scientific staff consists of 477 people from 53 countries of the world (26% of them are national staff).

Secondly, we focus on the development of advanced personal skills and competencies. From the very beginning, Nazarbayev University was established as an international research university. Therefore, research is a high priority at our university, for faculty, staff, and students as well. Despite the considerable workload, our students are very active.  Currently, there are over 200 officially registered student clubs including but not limited to ones for music, sports, dance, science, debate, charity, and those related to various academic disciplines.

Thirdly, we emphasize employment skills and knowledge of the labor market. University graduates should be well versed in the labor market, possess information about employers and their requirements, career prospects, the recruitment process, vacancies, working conditions, etc. They should be able to competently write CVs and be prepared for interviews with employers. The University has a Career and Vocational Guidance Center whose purpose is to help students acquire the skills and experience necessary for successful employment. They work with students on an ongoing basis, facilitating internships, providing practice interviews, and also coordinating introductions between students and potential employers.

Fourth, we find that work experience is very important, be it in apprenticeships, internships, temporary employment, volunteering or on another basis. The combination of these four factors increases the competitiveness of our graduates and makes the employment process faster and more efficient.

In a world where the labor market is becoming increasingly competitive, graduates need to plan early.  Even from the very beginning of their studies, they need to imagine possible employment options, consider what skills and knowledge is required for such careers, and be prepared to successfully complete all the required stages to gain employment.

In your opinion, what competitive advantages do graduates of NU have?

In addition to quality education, the University pays great attention to the development of its graduates’ professional competencies, and this should give them a competitive advantage in the labor market. These professional competencies are a deep and complete understanding of their subject area; a vibrant, creative, curious, and open mind; the ability to make informed decisions and create new opportunities; enterprise and independence; and a cross-cultural knowledge and fluency that allows them to easily navigate between different settings.

It is also important to be a cultural and tolerant citizen of the world, while at the same time to remain a responsible citizen of one’s own country.   Additionally, graduates need to maintain a high level of personal consciousness and be willing to lead their country’s development.

We tried to instill all these qualities, skills and abilities in our students. And today I can proudly say that they meet our hopes and expectations.

Thus, Nazarbayev University’s former graduates – from the past four cohorts numbering more than 2500 students – are a shining example of the above qualities.   In terms of what our graduates are doing, about 60% of them are in the workforce, either in Kazakhstani or international companies, and some have even started their own business or startup.   About 29%, have continued their studies at various universities around the world.  In terms of where our graduates have ended up, more than half of them work and study in Kazakhstan (52%), while the rest have found their place in the labor markets of the United States (15%), the United Kingdom (6%), as well as other countries in Europe, North America and Asia. Particularly of note is that there are graduates who work for leading IT-companies such as Google, Microsoft, Apple, and others in Silicon Valley.

What would you wish for the graduates of NU?

Set high ambitious goals and achieve them, work hard, do not stand still, pay attention to the need for constant self-development, good luck in all your endeavors! And of course, do not lose touch with the University and your friends. We are sincerely happy with all the successes of our graduates and are proud of them always.