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The Evolution of Higher Education

What is ‘higher education’?

Is it educating young people for jobs in the skilled, professional and academic segments of Canadian and global business? Does it really include retraining older workers, new skills for senior or retired Canadians? And who is really the focus group, who needs the service and the benefits?

At many Canadian institutions of higher learning we encourage international student recruitment, not because there are too few Canadians who could take the seats on offer but because it is a lucrative (money) and positive way (statistical) to improve the standing of a particular institution in competition with all the others in Canada.

What is lower education… is there even such a thing? Is there a point where we can say there you now have a complete lower education?

Education begins at birth and goes on until you die. The purpose of education is to allow a person to be successful at the tasks they want to accomplish. We see a rush toward success in infants as they learn to walk, play, speak, eat and all the early childhood development skills. Why are they so successful? It is because we happily encourage the child with constant supportive repetition, tolerance of any and all mistakes and with tools or toys that allow each child to progress at their own rate without a time limit, or any consideration of failure.

As soon as the child gets to the school system we have switched the rules to ones including competition with real failure, time limits and significantly less tolerance and supportive assistance. There are many reasons for this we use to justify the changes, economy, personnel and cost constraints, class sizes, and limitations in individual children.

I think we should admit there is one thing that stands out in why children receive less personal attention and encouragement to succeed at their own pace. This is because children are not as cute and seemingly helpless as the infants they once were. In fact we are expecting each young student to advance toward adulthood, responsible for their own success and independence. This becomes very early in life an invisible pressure and is in almost all cases used in measuring achievement or progress.

So what is wrong with ‘higher education’?

Higher education does not take a completed lower educated person who has all the confidence of past successes, a firm understanding of all life skills, macro human relationships or a clear focus on what they would like to do next. In most cases the money required to continue without time pressure, pressure to succeed, competitive pressure against their peers, economic pressure for jobs and family pressure for praise are all now real stresses for students.

The first thing higher education needs to do is provide an environment where each student can succeed and build all their lower education skills into a solid base, acquire the skills not taught, yet in the areas of social responsibility and interaction, economics and monetary management, workforce diversity, and the paths toward higher achievement.

A student does not need a degree to become an achiever, nor a diploma, certificate or any other paper. What they need is an understanding of where they are, what they want and how to achieve it. For a student who has a great idea for a business, they can leap from lower education to building simple and solid business management and personnel management skills directly into creation of their business. What will they get from a higher education? The knowledge on how to start their business, the resources to allow them to return for more skills as the business develops and grows and a place where they can return for advice and encouragement.

Other students may select different paths and challenges toward an ultimate goal but all require the solid base of not only lower education but human skills in order to succeed. All higher education institutions need to ensure they are focused on the delivery of skills, so that regardless of time each student—for as long as they are willing to continue to strive for the goal—will achieve success.

Higher education is not a one-chance-only service. It is not an if-you-can-keep-paying-we-will-keep-teaching service. It is a student success service.

With new technology we often kill the success by overwhelming some students with either to much independence or too much technical expectation. To provide all courses so students can do all the research and projects online without physically reading or writing on paper any part of the knowledge, is a disservice. It leads to abuses like plagiarism, poor understanding of the subject and co-operative cheating. Every course, regardless of the technological level or subject, must include part of the effort to be done manually, by hand, on paper for presentation. This would likely be an abstract of the work accomplished, with appended references and a personal opinion of the course material’s worth.

I am in effect suggesting we change the service model at all institutions to guarantee students who commit to a goal will achieve it, the cost will not change, no more money would be required to repeat or learn at a slower rate, all students get courses in building the solid human and interpersonal skills they need to live in society. All courses include required manual presentation materials regardless how virtual or technological the material is.

I also suggest all institutions provide significantly greater opportunities for students to work on campus, near campus and within the school administrative system as a way to provide income, work experience and lower institutional costs of delivery.

Institutions need to amalgamate administrative functions to some degree to save costs, allow administrative work to be done off campus either at home (remote access) or from one institution to another. Schools need to lower the cost of senior administrative remuneration, and expectation for compensation for all administrative staff must be weighed with the pressures of the positions as they relate to private sector expectations.

Faculty must also be held more accountable for the material delivered, and methods to achieve complete student success without reducing the quality of the success. Faculty costs must like administrative costs be reduced, teachers need to collaborate across institutions and merit offered for exceptional performance and talent.

Schools need to be open longer each day, more days each year and the course offerings must continually be measured against the needs and future needs of Canada and the global economy.

We must also focus much more of our course and skills training toward sustainable issues, political ethics and political manipulation. Students need to learn how to not only use the academic skills they achieve but how to apply human skills and weigh moral and ethical issues in their decision making.

There is no need for institutions in Ontario or Canada to have the cutting edge in computer systems that are unrelated to academic achievement. Standardizing all sites on a single suite of administrative tools that do not require continued upgrading will allow a smaller set of administrative staff to manage and run these systems.

Where it is cost effective to have up to date and flexible course management or student recording systems these can also be standard and revised periodically.

Much of the work done at schools with machinery can be made simpler and use human power, smaller machines and be setup in such a way as to provide opportunities for student employment, practice in setup and running micro companies, bidding and competitive service practice just to name a few.

School changes and development can be done with student involvement, the use of skills perhaps from other schools like architecture or engineering, etc., in the planning. In building or remodelling much of the labour can be student employment opportunities.

Schools also should have organized skill learning activities that encourage students to partake in political activity, social activism, the advancement and public declaration of ethical and moral issues.

Current day leaders of industry, and government should be asked to attend lectures and debates with students to discuss and debate the issues we will be facing in the future when these students are our leaders.

As for seniors or elderly persons we can encourage their participation in the education system both in the taking of courses and delivery of material so as to retain their knowledge and skills in society and enrich the learning opportunities of the young. Elderly people can also and would likely willingly assist in keeping schools open longer by being the on-site staff for short periods of time. It would allow them to also continue their education, and of course they would be compensated for their work with a flexible plan including tax credits, benefit insurance and some income.

Schools must also offer their coursed in the lower school system to enlighten and open the eyes of very young students to the possibilities and excitement of higher education.

In short there is a lot we can change in our academic learning centres if we can over come the ‘ego’ issues and competitive nature currently existing between and among schools in search of the almighty buck.

As for international students, ethically we should not ask them to pay more, or expect less if they want to come to Canada and study. We should also encourage recruitment of the international student cohort to include equal representation from poor and affluent nations.

Freedom, equality, ethics and diversity need to drive our policies and improvements in higher education. Not the pressures of politics or competition.

This was Philip Lucas’ response to the EvoLLLution’s panel question: What is one thing you would change about higher education? Check out more responses to this question here!

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