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More Relevant Programming Critical To Improving Higher Education

More Relevant Programming Critical To Improving Higher Education
In order to succeed in a new, more discerning marketplace, higher education institutions must make sure their programming fits what’s needed in by its consumers. Photo by Horia Varlan.

Someone recently asked me, what one thing would you change in higher education right now?  A simple question on the face of it unless you work in the sector and know that there is simply much more than one thing that needs changing and right now! But put on the spot, it has to be relevance; make degrees and supporting studies much more relevant to the world outside of academia, it’s critical.

I’m not suggesting that students shouldn’t learn about the things academics decide should be taught on modules and courses as lots of this is essential and builds the foundations. But there is certainly a need to make some of this teaching much more applied to real life, using real case studies and involving real businesses. Why? To give students a greater chance of appropriate employment, a better understanding of how models and theories actually work in practice and how to apply their knowledge, to think, to understand, to respond and to act.

Many students and companies that I speak to on a daily basis appear to have this requirement in common, yet from opposing standpoints.  Students realise they are not being taught practical, relevant content and how to apply it in practice and want this, while employers are concerned that students entering the market don’t have the skills to apply their knowledge and learning in the business place or ability to “hit the ground running” and want employees to be, well, more employable. The gap is slowly starting to close as universities realise that they have to do more within the curriculum and supporting the curriculum. But students are far more aware that competition for jobs is so fierce and times are tough so do realise they have to take some responsibility and do more.

Yes, times have changes, the world has changed peoples’ needs and behaviours have changed; yet university programmes and teaching, generally speaking hasn’t. Evolve or die is the mantra is it not? – it is certainly the case for businesses and we see it all around us, those falling by the wayside as they don’t evolve, and that includes some very big names; but its becoming a topical point for higher education too as competition for good students is increasing and students on the whole are more selective, and why wouldn’t they be at £9,000 a year in fees.

But how has higher education changed? Well mainly it’s the customer that’s changed not so much the provider, students, or customers which is what they really are, have become a lot more demanding especially here in the UK. This has become more prevalent since the relaxation of fees and universities going for the top fee limit allowed, so students are questioning what they get for their huge investment and are finding they are simply not satisfied with what they see and what they receive. It’s healthy for competition, it puts pressure on education providers to change and you can see a slow shift in the right direction but there has to be a lot of pain first before things get any better.

Students or customers are relevant, but have arguably been a sideline or distraction in higher education in the past and it’s evident that there is a shift in their favour now rather than favouring the academics and their research agendas. It would appear demand is going to lead the momentous shift needed in higher education from within rather that education providers being fluid, dynamic and responsive to business needs and the future to provide something that customers want and will want in the future. It will hopefully happen but not in the short term.

So what happens in the meantime? Well lots could be happening and should be happening. From an employers perspective there needs to be more commercial awareness, more enterprise skills, better understanding of small businesses, creative and critical thinking, relevant and up-to-date skill sets that takes in technology and social media. Subject areas and skill sets that higher education has a duty to provide students with and can easily fulfil with a range of associated programmes, guest lectures, bolt on modules, volunteering, special events, oh I could go on but won’t.

Change needs to happen; relevance needs to be the focus. If higher education wants to be commercial they need to think and act commercially too.