The world is changing. Globalization, mobility, migration, rapid development of new technologies impact employability patterns and skills required in the future worldwide.
Educational attainment, capacity development, equity are among key issues in sustainable development (UNESCO, 2019). In this context, higher education (HE) is “at the forefront of policy and political debate” and the role of universities increases (Holford, 2014). Moreover, quality TVET and tertiary education are among the 7 education indicators of UIS sustainable development goals (Education 2030, 2015; UNESCO, 2018). The revised framework for Bachelor and Master curricula graduates emphasises graduates’ reasoning and problem solving skills, communication to various audiences, responsibility, learning-to-learn, professional competence (Paris Communiqué, 2018b) at the same time stressing interdisciplinary curricula, combined academic and work-based learning, cooperation in innovative learning and teaching practices, fostering digital and professional competences (Paris Communiqué, 2018a), i.e., highly developed professional competences and employability skills are still significant graduates’ attributes.
Cross-regional exchanges and co-operation in HE (ASEF, 2018) may be beneficial in improving HE quality in the countries involved, therefore a comparative research was conducted by two applied science universities – a university in Europe, Latvia and a university in Asia, Shaoxing City, China, to analyse their curricula in the field of international tourism and hospitality and their correspondence to the labour market needs. The aim of the research: to define curricula correspondence to labour market needs in both countries and find similarities and differences to adopt best practice of each university in fostering the development of students’ professional competence and employability skills.
Previous research on curricula reforms conducted worldwide over the last 20 years (Sheldon, et.al., 2006; Charlier, Croche, 2007; Bantwini, 2010; Davis, 2016; Barret, 2017) indicate their insufficiency to ensure quality education corresponding to the labour market needs. Modern curricula must ensure developing learners’ global competence – knowledge, skills, attitudes, values (OECD, 2018), competences for unknown future (Mulder, 2016). However, defining the future competences, employers’ mistakes in defining the required competences must be considered (Sultana, Watts, 2000; Rauner, 2007; Sultana, 2009) because in many instances professional role requires much deeper competence as necessary to perform job duties. This emphasises the necessity of fostering employability skills (Huda, et.al, 2017; Jääskelä, 2018), defined in this research as generic skills required for employability and being successful irrespective of one’s field or enterprise.
YIHA, an Institute of ZYUFL in China, founded in 2011, currently has 1000 full-time Bachelor students studying International Hospitality Management and Events Management. YIHA’s aim is to be international, practical, dynamic institution and they strive to attain it by ensuring holistic student-centred approach to education blending theory and practice. Apart from numerous contracts with renowned international and national hotel brands, YIHA has opened a fully student-managed hotel ensuring full practical learning dealing with real events and guests, operating in all areas of the hotel, managing several projects under the guidance of practice lecturers and department managers.
International Tourism Faculty (ITF) of TU, Latvia, founded in 1999, currently has 672 students, studying Tourism and Hospitality Management (Bachelor level), Event Production and Management (Bachelor level), Tourism Strategic Management (Master level), Hospitality Service (short cycle). Curricula are developed in accordance with Latvia’s legislation and consider the interests of all stakeholders, including the industry needs. Curricula consist of three mutually complimentary components: general educational, industry specific theoretical and professional specialisation study courses, field practices and the state examination. ITF operates ‘Event Laboratory’, ‘Travel Agency Lab’, ‘Start-up Hotel Lab’ (Accommodation, Catering services) where students alongside with industry training develop their professional competence.
The research question: do the curricula comply with the labour market needs and what are the main similarities and differences between both universities?
This comparative research, conducted in China and Latvia in 2018, involved tourism and hospitality employers of both countries. According to Thomas (2009), comparative research design in social sciences is used for international comparison, especially focusing on socio-cultural contexts of each participating country, institutional structures to discover similarities and differences. The current research provides insight in HE peculiarities of China and Latvia, especially in tourism and hospitality HE, explores the target universities and their tourism curricula to adopt best practices in order to improve graduates’ employability. Comparative research designs require a combination of methods (Thomas, 2009), therefore quantitative survey was supplemented with expert interviews. The questionnaire studies employers’ opinion about skills, knowledge and competences required to work in tourism and hospitality industry in each country and internationally. Expert interviews research in-depth differences in findings and offer explanations to improve the existing practice. The questionnaire tool had 6 parts: 1) 5-point Likert scale questions to analyse knowledge expected from potential employees (13 variables), 2) evaluation of trainees’ knowledge accordingly (13 variables), 3) analysis of skills, competencies, abilities expected from potential employees (25 variables), 4) evaluation of trainees’ skills, competencies, abilities under analysis (25 variables), 5) analysis of significance of HE and previous work experience when hiring new employees for certain positions (8 variables), 6) data about respondents (company, number of employees in it, respondents’ position). Purposive sample was formed to include key informants whose opinion is vital for the study (Walliman, 2016; O’Leary, 2010): the employers in whose enterprises students undergo training. Any repetition was excluded. The sample comprised 348 employers: 138 from Latvia and 210 from China, among them 107 top-level, 163 mid-level, 53 lower-level managers. The questionnaire was applied both F2F and sending a survey link to definite employers. Experts were auditors of UNWTO evaluating the curricula internationally. Quantitative data analysis was done applying descriptive and inferential statistics methods by SPSS: frequencies, means, modes; to find significant differences between the groups due to not-normal empirical distribution Mann-Whitney test (for 2 groups) and Wilcoxon Signed Ranks test to compare expectations with the reality (Walliman, 2016), qualitative data analysis – applying discourse analysis (Fawcett, Pockett, 2015). Reliability coefficient shown in Reliability Statistics table displayed as a simple Cronbach’s Alpha indicates very good internal consistency reliability for the scales with the given sample (α=0.953). However, due to s<0.2 in Item-Total Statistics table of Cronbach’s Alpha test, 12 variables were excluded from analysis (s=0.028-0.177).
The findings indicate that both curricula contain study courses recognised by the industry as significant. The employers had not indicated any other specific knowledge required. Similarly, employers admitted the significance of all the skills included in the curricula: language skills, communication in international environment, digital skills, employability skills. Overall, employers acknowledged skills and competences (mode=5.00, mean=4.239-4.8678, with a bit lower mean for Russian and German skills) more significant than knowledge (mode=4.00, mean=3.5776-4.4540). Evaluation of trainees’ knowledge, skills and competences showed a similar situation: mode for skills=5.00 with the exception for Russian and German, means=3.6839-4.2529 vs. knowledge mode=3.00, means=3.3879-3.9425. However, students’ knowledge and skills level just partially comply with the labour market requirements. Significant differences were found concerning employers’ expectations and trainees’ knowledge, skills, competences (Asymp.Sig.2-tailed=0.000-0.009) for all variables, wherein expectations were predominantly higher (24 cases out of 32) compared to trainees’ performance which emphasizes the necessity of introducing improvements in the curricula. Significant differences were found between Latvian and Chinese respondents for 65 variables (Asymp.Sig.2-tailed=0.000-0,047) out of 71. Significant differences were not found for: significance of knowledge of Economics; Catering Management and Operation; International Tourism and Globalization; significance of HE when recruiting receptionists, travel agents, client consultants; previous work experience for any position. Chinese respondents evaluated significance of knowledge of Hotel Operations and Management; Tour Organization and Management; trainees’ German language skills higher. Latvian respondents higher evaluated all other variables. The results indicate that YIHA might benefit from the more experienced FIT in updating its curricula. FIT could set up a real functioning tourism enterprise (YIHA’s experience) to raise students’ professional skills level. Expert interviews clarify the data. Differences are explained by different incoming visitors’ profile, diverse historic and cultural background, distinct geographic location. Implications: during the next stage students and teachers’ opinion has to be analysed for full comparison.
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