Unless you pay these professionals well, it won’t matter if it’s a sought-after profession

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 At the end of last March, Mongolian government re-approved the priority areas of development and in-demand professions. In doing so, 83 professions were included in the priority areas of higher education, and 38 were in demand. These professions were determined based on policy documents such as “Vision-2050”, “Medium-term plan for the development of the education sector through 2021 to 2030”, and reports issued by international organizations in the fields of labor market and economy, says expert of higher education of Ministry of Education and Science.

The priority areas of higher education are mining, geology, information and communication, engineering production, nanoscience, biotechnology, energy, agriculture, animal husbandry, forestry, construction, architecture, transport, logistics, defense, soil majors, agrochemistry, and water supply. Education, tourism,  health, food production, forestry, culture, and art professions are in demand. The aforementioned professions are in demand in the Mongolian labor market and will continue to be this way in the foreseeable future.

The government and related ministries jointly work at the policy level to meet the demand in the labor market. However, judging by the ‘experience’ of the past and the current situation, it is very unclear whether they can work effectively.

Mongolia has been updating the list of priority professions every four years. Accordingly, there has been no promising changes or results. It is also doubtful whether the attitude and the career choice of young people have actually been affected. Higher education institutions still fight to enroll students in the same few fields of law, economics, banking, international relations. Students and young people still choose the same few professions and make wrong choices. As a result, the balance of demand and supply in the labor market is lost, specialized and sought-after professional programs in universities are devalued, the number of applicants decreases year by year, some departments are closed, and teachers are facing unemployment. In other words, the results of the policies and decisions implemented by the government have not been sufficient.

After approving the list of priority professions in demand, a member of the government in charge of education determines the number of students to be enrolled to universities and colleges in that field and the enrollment threshold scores. In addition, the methodology of government support for students (loans, scholarships, grants for foreign and domestic studies) is updated. In other words, such measures are implemented as an incentive to support and increase the number of young people who want to study these professions. But the current situation shows that these were not very useful solutions. For example, the Education Loan Fund has been providing tuition loans and grants to students in priority fields. From 2020, the provision of a 70 to 100 percent grant of tuition fees to undergraduate students studying for a teaching at domestic state-owned universities and colleges, who scored more than 650 points in the General Entrance Exam (GEE) and had a GPA of more than 2.8, was implemented.

In addition, the threshold score for nurses to public and private higher education institutions has been raised to 501, and the GPA has been raised to 2.8 to three. However, how these professions enrollers have not significantly increased can be seen from statistics.  On the contrary, the issue of human resources in the industry became more acute. Meanwhile, the Minister of Education and Science L.Enkh-Amgalan has decided to reduce the threshold score for the students in six popular professions from 400 to 440. But this is looked as if it’s looking after students who are don’t work hard in their studies. Students with poor grades who have just passed the base GEE score will be able to study as teachers and nurses, which are in high demand in Mongolia, and receive support from the government. In the past, we have delayed the development of our country with the dark extreme of ‘It will be okay so long as they become a lawyer and an economist’, but a situation has arisen where we may suffer the consequences of this thoughtless policy in the future. It is even more heartbreaking to think that five of the six professions whose admission thresholds were lowered are educators who will work in the education sector and teach you and our children.

Even after the government has announced in recent years that, “There are no other necessary professions like teachers, nurses and engineers”, the workers in these specific fields continue to move away like migratory birds, show that the government is unable to value and compensate them as necessary. Unless the salaries, values, social security, and working conditions of these professions are improved, no matter how many times we advertise that they are in demand, or lower the GEE scores, it will not help. In reality, the graduates choose their profession considering the fact that it is a little more valuable and provides a decent salary, rather than saying, “We study this profession because it is in demand in society.” It is a very naive decision to increase the number of applicants by lowering the criteria. Instead, it is more effective to focus on creating a system that truly values their work. The Prime Minister said that the government is paying special attention to reforming the salaries of government employees based on results and performance, and optimizing basic salaries and productivity incentives. It is even planned to make certain regulations within the legal framework. When implementing it, they need to align it with in-demand professional areas. Since last spring, teachers’ salaries were transferred to performance-based system.

The Minister of Education and Science continues to advertise that “the average salary of teachers rose to 1.6 million MNT to 1.8 million MNT with the introduction of the results-based financing system”, but the employees in this field have said that “the work and pressure on teachers have increased since they are evaluated based on performance. Not everyone gets such a salary.” If this salary evaluation system continues to be implemented in an unsatisfied way, they won’t make any significant progress. Also, it is effective to eliminate some overlapping majors in higher education institutions. That way, schools that see students as money and recruit students every year in professions that are surplus to the labor market will be sorted out. It is necessary to make the regulation that loans and scholarships will be given to only students learning in foreign countries in high-demand and priority fields to become realistic. A researcher said that most of the people who studied at the best foreign universities with the financing of the Education Loan Fund studied professions that are not of much importance to society and are not priority areas. This is how much importance our country attaches to professions that are in demand.

If the list of in-demand and priority professions is approved and abandoned, and this situation continues, our country may face a labor shortage. They won’t even be able to pull up the sectors they want to develop as a priority. The number of professionals on the list may increase. When the government approved the priorities of higher education in 2020, they listed 37 professions in 13 fields, including education, culture, art, environment, engineering, manufacturing, agriculture, and health. However, this time, a total of 121 professions are included in two sections, which are essential for the development of Mongolia, and which are in demand in the labor market. Whether this number will continue to increase or decrease depends on how effectively the government takes measures and makes proper arrangements.

Amarjargal Munkhbat