Lesson from Brexit: Education can bridge social divide

Tay Kay Luan

by Tay Kay Luan

We can learn many lessons from the recent Brexit experience in the United Kingdom, when people voted to leave the European Union.

It clearly demonstrated the wide gaps in voting patterns between the different social groups and regions in the UK.

Those who wanted UK to leave the EU expressed concern for the following issues, or gave these, more or less, as the reasons why they voted to leave:

  • Fear of new migrants, resentment against cheap labour at the expense of local job opportunities, rising cost of living, external interference and rising inequality
  • There is a wide feeling among UK citizens that foreigners are willing to do the same job for lesser pay and this has led to resentment. Many companies prefer cheaper labour from EU.

The Daily Telegraph reported that Brexit showed the importance of education, income and location. All of these come back to the capacity to earn, which correlates to the level of education.

Education, in every sense, is one of the fundamental elements of sustainable development, and a critical input towards bridging inequality and the social divide.

There is empirical evidence that sustainable economic development must come with substantial investment in human capital.

Michael Porter in his book “Competitive Advantage of Nations”, singled out innovations in human capital through education and training as major drivers behind the success of leading nations – US, Korea, Japan, Singapore, Sweden and Germany.

Education broadens and enriches people’s perspectives and aids innovation. It uplifts the quality of lives and brings social benefits to individuals and society.

At the business level, education raises people’s productivity and creativity and promotes entrepreneurship and technological advances and adaptation to change.

In addition, it plays a very crucial role in securing economic and social progress and improving income distribution.

Malaysia has achieved considerable success in terms of an increase in the number of university graduates. But employing graduates without the capacity to learn, adapt and assimilate the knowledge for organisational outcomes will lead to problems.

In the context of constant dynamic change, including the shift to a knowledge and innovation age, an additional set of capabilities – which allow them to effectively manage the process and efficiently respond to a new environment – is needed.

In today’s competitive environment, a well-educated and trained workforce is the differentiator. Malaysia is no exception.

There have been many complaints about the quality of local graduates and their inability to assimilate to the work environment and their poor command of language.

For working adults, therefore, the need to be professionally qualified has become an integral part of human capital development and strategy.

Corporations and professional firms, hence, have a social obligation towards fulfilling these roles for their members.

Enhancing their intellectual capacity will help eliminate development and social gaps. More importantly, it is to ensure the workforce acquires the necessary competencies to stay employable and remain competitive.

Access to education and learning is a must as it not only improves quality and standards, but also helps with the agenda of achieving national prosperity and stability.

In many cases, opportunities to upgrade are exclusive and reserved for high performers.

Access to education is now much simpler with advancement in digital learning, and making it more inclusive is the best way to grow our human talent pipeline.

On this basis, organisations will be expected to fulfil their social responsibility roles to ensure professional education is inclusive and available to anyone who wishes to learn.

More compelling are the people without tertiary education due to lack of opportunities and financial affordability.

These include supervisors, junior technicians and non-executives. For them, professional certification routes are an alternative career pathway.

Therefore, it is important that the government and business take note of the lessons from Brexit.

The main lesson is this: If the social divide due to increasing income disparity is not addressed, people will ultimately express their resentment sooner or later.

The social divide can be narrowed by giving people access to education.

Tay Kay Luan was the former Chief Executive Officer of the Asian Institute of Chartered Bankers (AICB).

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