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OPINION | The university of the future must produce work-ready graduates

2020-02-05 13:00
By bringing together young and enthusiastic individuals, universities have drawn attention to our need to aspire to a better way of life, says the writer. (iStock)

By bringing together young and enthusiastic individuals, universities have drawn attention to our need to aspire to a better way of life, says the writer. (iStock)

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Those who obtain a degree need to be cognisant of a requirement to contribute something to the society which has facilitated their development. University does not emphasise this enough today, writes Dan Remenyi.

For a very long time, universities have been important institutions in society.

They provide a wide range of people with the education they need to pursue professional careers.

This is so successful that it has been taken for granted that getting a university education is a "good thing" that will lead to a relatively fast track to success.

But times have changed.

With the exception of the elite universities, graduates are no longer quite as certain of obtaining a good job.

The labour market is much more competitive and there is a greater emphasis on instant results.

Leaders in commerce and industry have been critical of universities for not producing work-ready graduates.

In addition, the intense focus on research in the modern university is being said to not necessarily have a positive impact on university teaching.

Within the universities, there has been some disquiet about management practices, including the remuneration packages awarded to Vice-Chancellors and other high office-bearers.

Student debt has become a major problem in some parts of the world.

So what has to be done?

Well, in the first place it is necessary to understand that universities have become large multi-product, multi-process, and multi-function businesses.

This has largely been imposed on them by the fact that government funding has not been as generous as in previous years.

These organisations today are quite different from what universities were 50 years ago, and this needs to be understood by everyone concerned.

It is important to emphasise that universities have to be about education, education and education, and it is essential to ensure that the essence of education is understood.

Education is not so much about transferring facts and figures or skills.

It is certainly not about banking information in the heads of the learners.

Rather, education is about developing a mind-set whereby the learner realises his or her potential to face challenging situations and to come up with satisfactory solutions to problems.

Of course, knowledge is required to achieve this, but more than knowledge is required.

Thus, the idea of becoming work-ready is not the reason to go to university, but there is no doubt that becoming work-savvy - which requires, inter alia, an achievement ethos - is a very useful thing.

It has been known for a long time that attending lectures is one of the least effective ways of learning.

So learning by doing has to be the way forward, and furthermore, working i.e. doing alongside accomplished practitioners has much to offer. So the University of the Future will, among other things, put greater emphasis on collaboration with practitioners.

Universities have to be careful not to jam-pack their students' days with work.

University years are the time for individual exploration through discourse with others in similar circumstances, and reading works which will broaden the mind.

Like lectures, traditional examinations often do not really establish in any depth what students know. Students anticipate exam questions and learn regurgitated answers to previously asked questions.

It has been said (and I do not have collaborative references) that in ancient China, admission to the civil service was highly competitive, requiring many years of study and a day-long examination.

The interesting point is that the examination question was always the same every year, and furthermore, it was well known to everyone.

The question went something like this, "Write down what you know that will demonstrate that you are worthy of a position in your country's administration".

Today, the final question to graduate from university could be, "Write down what you know about economics or mathematics or civil engineering - or whatever your subject is - which will allow this university to be confident that you are worthy of being awarded a degree".

This approach alone to examination, if applied correctly, would make a major contribution to making a university education much relevant.

Attending a university is a privilege.

Irrespective of who pays for it, the experience of higher education is very expensive.

Those who obtain a degree need to be cognisant of a requirement to contribute something to the society which has facilitated their development.

University does not emphasise this enough today.

No one can ever pay back the help they received to develop and achieve success, but everyone can pay forward and facilitate others achieving their potential.

It is clear that the University of the Future will be different from what it is today, but it is essential not to forget the achievements of the past.

Universities have made remarkable contributions in facilitating improvements in peoples' lives.

Universities have often led the way in developing new ideas, new processes and new products.

Universities have encouraged individuals who have become leaders in all walks of life.

And universities, through bringing together young and enthusiastic individuals, have drawn attention to our need to aspire to a better way of life.

- Professor Dan Remenyi is an Extra-ordinary Professor in the Department of Information Systems at the University of the Western Cape.

He is the Co-Editor and contributor to the newly published book, The University of the Future, ISBN: 978-1-912764-51-8.

Read more on:    uwc  |  education
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