Universities and Education in Mongolia

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Mongolia is rich in many things, its history, tradition, and gold. The country is quite rich in universities as well. Mongolia’s universities may lack the proper quality but definitely make up for that in their numbers. There are a plethora of problems surrounding the education system in Mongolia, most of which are caused by the government’s neglect. I would like to begin with how students enroll in general education schools and the subsequent process of enrolling in universities. Under the Mongolian Constitution, the government must provide a 12-year cost-free general education. At the end of their 12th year, students are required to take the General Entrance Exam if they wish to attend a university. While students choose their exams depending on the area of study of their choice, since 2013, it has become mandatory for every student to take the Mongolian language exam. The provinces rank and sort the exam results. In Ulaanbaatar, students submit their scores to their university of choice. The first major problem with enrolling in a university in Mongolia starts here. In every province, there are about 1,000 to 2,000 students who take entrance exams each year. However, if a student wants to enroll in a specific field of study (fields that are considered difficult to master due to a longer duration of study or for just being too complex) – such as law, journalism, or engineering – he or she must, quite unbelievably, rank either first or second in their province. For general enrollment, one must rank in the top eight. In short, unless a student tops the rankings among a few thousand students, he or she will not be able to enroll in the field of their choice. Currently, there are 17 state and 83 private universities in Mongolia for a population of three million. The population to university ratio is interesting: Mongolia’s population is approximately 400 times lower 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) 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. The number of universities might have something to do with the number of people deciding to attend universities. In 2014, out of around 73,000 high school graduates, 49,000 of them (67 percent) enrolled at universities. Of course, this number would be even higher if one were to account for college admittances. Since 2012, the number of students attending higher education institutions has been decreasing. It is not because fewer students are graduating from high school, but because of the population. A generation ago, in the Soviet satellite state of Mongolia, families tended to have five to 10 children. Today, according to the population statistics from the National Statistical Office, families with two to three children are common, five or more children is extremely rare, while families with ten children are nearly nonexistent. Another problem we see with universities is that most, if not all, parents choose their children’s career paths. Of course, this tendency is diminishing, but not as fast as it should. The reason it is changing slowly is that the relationship between the Ministry of Education and educational institutions is not very specific or effective. To put it another way, the government lacks an effective education strategy – it is either not enforced or does not exist. Most students have no idea which career path they should choose when graduating from high school, which could indicate a lack of interest from the government. This inaction results in graduates listening more closely to their parents, who have few ideas about professions other than their own. This creates a problem within society, where there is no diversity among professions and graduates end up unemployed. To further escalate this issue, there is no official event – neither from the government or state universities – to introduce prospective students to their institutions and available courses, or just a simple promotion of available majors. To fill this hole, volunteer groups and organizations occasionally carry out college and career fairs. During this critical time of development in this country, the government should pay a little more attention to the career paths of the thousands of young people graduating every year. I wish teachers and university employees were more helpful and caring in providing information to students under an overall government strategy to assist students in choosing their careers. Mongolia is a developing country, and it might be easier – if I may say so – to predict how many professionals in particular fields that we might need in the future, but the government does not take advantage of this. Private universities have agreements with larger corporations to specially prepare their workforce. The government should implement a similar system nationwide to help reduce unemployment. Of course, in this free market of competition and survival, one can become properly qualified and have a successful career, but that is not the case for the majority of university graduates. What young people do right now is listen to their parents, enroll in a university of  questionable quality – along with thousands of others, and graduate with no job waiting for them, despite a diploma with their name on it.

Myagmardorj Buyanjargal
Myagmardorj is a freelance writer and certified translator who holds a Bachelor of Law Degree from the National University of Mongolia and Bachelor of Science Degree in engineering in mining technology from the Mongolian University of Science and Technology.