Education is a priority sector in Bhutan and, with the rapid growth of the student population, the issues are getting more complex by the year.
After the announcement of the results this week, thousands of Class XII students are going to try to gain admission to the 10 tertiary institutions under the Royal University of Bhutan and the Khesar Gyalpo University of Medical Sciences of Bhutan. In the next few weeks, students will pour onto the websites of these universities seeking admission.
The good change is that the admission system has become completely independent and transparent, with all the information are placed, literally, on the websites. In the system, instead of going purely by the average marks, students are selected based on their performance in the most relevant subjects. A student strong in Science but weak in English would no longer be chosen for English Honours because of a higher average, for example.
Earlier, Bhutan had adopted an imported system where the performance was based on English and the three best subjects. Different institutes also used different methods. So the universities have developed a system that represents a reasoned approach and is considered to be fair across the board.
It would, of course, be unrealistic to expect everyone to be happy with the system. When 11,234 students are competing for about half as many seats, thousands of students are likely to be unhappy and some may have reasonable complaints. The pressure has been building every year.
That is why merit ranking is a good process. Academic performance has to be the criteria for further studies. Merit ranking is currently used in the RCSC common examinations, for the selection of candidates for government jobs, with good feedback.
And for those whose academic dreams end with the selection process, a new reality begins. The students are looking at a saturated civil service and a private sector that does not have very much to offer. However, all is not lost.
The next website they should now be looking at is of the Ministry of Labour and Human Resources which has initiated a new drive to step up vocational training. Accepting that not every Bhutanese citizen will be a university graduate, this is the right time to venture into a market that is short of much-needed skills.
The agencies can also time the announcements of vacancies for various skilling programmes to capture them early on. Setting up information sessions or career counselling through toll-free numbers to share relevant details would help students prepare and make up their minds in choosing a trade.
Globally, markets face a growing skilled labour crunch, be it in the manufacturing, construction, or transportation industries. We are living in times good skill may be worth more than an academic degree.