IR4.0 and Changing Trend in Higher Education -Dr Teh Choon Jin
Published On: 21/06/2021

IR4.0 and Changing Trend in Higher Education

2021-06-21 20:44 BY APD NEWS

As the world is being plagued with Covid-19 pandemic, China, just like any other countries has accelerated transformation into the online education when the pandemic first started. This was made possible with its policy foundation in place for partnerships between national and local government, private sector and civil society in mobilizing the national cloud platform for educational resources and public services. The level of preparedness in cushioning the impact on disruption to the teaching and learning and technology adoption in education is remarkable. 

Moving forward, how would the future trend in higher education in a country with a population exceeding 1.4 billion looks like? To answer this question, it is interesting to look at how China has moved and transformed over last few decades into a fast-growing economy, once known for its low-cost labor of production to the center stage of high technology production adopting automation, artificial intelligence and Internet of Things (IoT) which are part of the Industrial Revolution 4.0 (IR4.0).  

Although the phrase "Industrie 4.0" was coined by German, the concept of a fourth industrial revolution has struck a chord with enterprises all around the world. Although many people connect cutting-edge industrial technology with the West, countries all around the world have been working hard to obtain a competitive advantage. As one of the largest emerging economies, it is important for China to focus on IR4.0 in spurring its economy since manufacturing contributed 27% of China’s GDP in 2019 based on World Bank reports. China has taken the IR 4.0 agenda seriously and has made preparation and investment in huge infrastructure to secure its future. This can be seen with China’s action plan known as “Made in China 2025” (MiC2025) to support the development of Chinese service-oriented manufacturing which aims to enhance the overall efficiency and quality of Chinese manufacturing. One component of MiC2025 is the fast growth of automation and the other one is the emphasis on service-oriented manufacturing. The deployments of IoT took place across all key sectors namely manufacturing, energy and resources, public services, healthcare, education and transportation.

The Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution in China is set to bring together high-level leaders from government, industry and other sectors of society to enhance worldwide collaboration in research and technology. Based on report by International Data Corporation (IDC), in terms of global spending, China accounted for 29% of total robotics investment in 2017 and 28% in IoT. One third of the world’s Industry IoT connection will come from China by 2025 according to a report by GSMA. Hence, IoT, artificial intelligence and autonomous mobility are just some of the examples of new technologies that are altering lives and revolutionizing companies. The government of China is very supportive through its Public-Private Platform in joint research and co-design, producing prototype and facilitate adoption of such technologies and continuously encouraging companies to increase productivity and drive efficiencies by streamlining and automating manufacturing processes via internet connectivity. 

With the landscape of IR4.0 setting the scene, there has been increasing trend of students going into technology related courses at the tertiary level locally and abroad to meet the manpower needs of the industry and more students are being trained in such areas. There are lots of demand in such skills areas and bridging the huge shortage in the industry. This trend is supported by the finding of The World Economic Forum on The Future Job Report 2020 where it was reported that the ability of global companies to harness the growth potential of new technological adoption is hindered by skills shortages. Among the top such skills shortage are as follows: 1. 3D/4D modelling; 2. artificial intelligence; 3. machine learning; 4. neural networks & NLP augmented reality and 5. big data analytics. In the specific report for China on current skills areas of focus for reskilling/upskilling programs in the workforce, the top few skills highlighted are analytical thinking and innovation, leadership and social influence, active learning strategies, technology design and programming and critical thinking and analysis. The current workforce needs to be reskilled on such areas by 2025.  

The World Economic Forum on the Future Job Report also reported that jobs that are decreasing in demand across industries are jobs related to data entry, administrative and executive secretaries, accounting, bookkeeping, payroll, accountants, auditors as well as assembly and factory workers. Adoption of new technologies is said to be the most important attribute for any employer to look for in a candidate. The trend of higher education institutions preparing students for IR4.0 and students pursuing courses related to future job demand in IR4.0 skills areas are getting traction. It is no longer traditional courses that are taught in the higher education institutions that are popular among students but courses that meet future job demand and job positions that yet to exist today especially in technology related areas are getting more and more popular across China as well as globally.  

Unlike decades ago, where numerical, reading and writing skills are important but in today’s technology era, the younger children in schools are learning programming skills at a very young age and some argued that it is a necessary skill for future job requirement and producing future-proofing talents to meet the demand of the IR 4.0. 

As one of the most dynamic and quickest developing economies, China currently graduating 8 million students from its higher education institutions each year. This is higher than the total number of graduates from the United States and India. This figure is anticipated to triple by the beginning of the following decade. In the past, Chinese students have also been going to Western institutions to study, predominately countries such as United States, Canada, United Kingdom and Australia. However, countries in Southeast Asia such as Malaysia and Thailand are increasingly a popular destination for students. Many graduates were observed to remain in the host countries to work after graduation. However, between 2009 and 2018, the proportion of Chinese students who returned to the Mainland China after finishing their studies grew from 40% to about 80%. Such phenomena is attributed to better job prospects as a result of aggressive economic policies. The expanding Chinese economy is, unsurprisingly, one of the causes enticing Chinese students to return home after graduation especially if their talents are a fit for China's burgeoning tech industry, which increased by approximately 10% between 2015 and 2016 and expected to continue to grow further.

With the commitment of China in advancing technology infrastructure, emphasizing the importance of the development of automation, artificial intelligence and IoT across all key economic sectors and increasing trend of the younger generation moving towards pursuing technology related courses and training in such areas, China will be well-prepared for its future workforce that is equipped with a future-proof, employable skills that meet the demand of the industry. Such well-equipped and well-prepared workforce are crucial to further advance the country’s role to be the leading global economy. 

Dr. Teh Choon Jin.The author is Senior Director at Asia Pacific University of Technology & Innovation (APU), Malaysia and Deputy General Secretary, National Association of Private Educational Institutions (NAPEI), Malaysia. 


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