What Should Be the Focus of Higher Education?

There has been an enormous uptick in story lines – in all media formats – which attempt to unravel the mysterious linkage between education and employment or “employability.”  I’ve covered a lot of those stories in my blog and more appear daily.  I think the stubborn global recession accounts for this, in part, because there is a re-thinking about the structure of curricular offerings in the developed higher ed systems, and a re-examination of  the same in the developing world – all driven by the tremendous pressure created by high rates of un and under-employment (of graduates)  throughout the world. These pressures surely stem from different causes, however, the fact remains that educators must squarely face the new realities of the marketplace.

This article’s headline infers the focus needs to be on skills:   http://www.universityworldnews.com/article.php?story=20130103154436919#comments

The attention of education policy-makers and the international education community is moving away from raising literacy levels and increasing access to secondary and higher education, towards skills required by the workforce to promote economic growth….Higher education experts say that universities are coming under increasing pressure to ensure that their graduates are ‘employable’, although preparation for ‘employability’ is still only rarely incorporated in university courses, and the skills that could make a difference in finding employment and ways to deliver those skills are still not evident.

New ideas are beginning to take shape such as the expansion of MOOCs and their potential to reach millions of people. In the U.S., new linkages between industry and universities and a resurgence in students undertaking practical work-based internships.  The focus on employability most threatens traditional methods of delivering classroom content and the traditional aloofness of faculty as far as the linkage of their discipline to the marketplace (alas, I was a liberal arts major and it does hurt to say this).

I will continue to seek out and highlight innovative best practices when it comes to university-business partnerships and forms of collaboration which do make it more likely that students will receive BOTH a broadening of their intellectual horizons and a practical set of skills and competencies which make it more likely that they can begin to pay back their student loans in some reasonable period of time after graduation!

2 Comments on “What Should Be the Focus of Higher Education?

  1. I struggle with this topic and appreciate your write up as well as the World News article you shared (good overview of various regions and enough insight in each to guide further inquiry).

    I am not entirely swayed by the notion of a skills shortage (will be blogging about this topic from a diff ange this morning). I do think educators need to do a better job of showing students how they can apply the knowledge they’re acquiring. Practical application of skills such as problem solving, group/team work, leadership, and resilience are honed daily in situations within and beyond the classroom and learning how to apply these skills can be a meaningful classroom experience.

    Lots to think about. Will keep us busy for decades, at least. Glad, also, to have new voices in the educational discussion — investors and MOOCs have diversified the conversation.


  2. Well stated, as always. I also think that there should be more emphasis placed on what I saw as the future as a graduate back in the 1980’s (though the promise was that liberal arts graduates would be trained and were lauded for “communication skills”), when I entered the workforce as a freelancer/consultant. It would seem that as there is so much insecurity working for any company of any size, students should be taught by those out “in the field” how to create or invent their own jobs. We are seeing this phenomenon grow globally, or at least those who succeed in doing so seem to be far more vocal via social media, the web, and the like.

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