In his outstanding 1869 essay, The New Education, Charles Eliot charted the general course of educational development. In this essay Eliot, who in 1869 became president of Harvard University and held that office for a record 40 years, made a strong case for the constant renewal of the curriculum and teaching methods so that education could keep pace with the development of society. One hundred and fifty years later, this approach still holds true.
Today’s educators must rethink higher education in the realities of a new world ruled by technology. Carnegie Mellon University President Farnam Jahanian recently observed, “The unprecedented pace of social change makes reform even more urgent. Higher education is the engine of progress in the knowledge economy, and it is under tremendous pressure.”
Because of advances in technology, jobs and competencies are changing faster than people or organizations can adapt. The 2019 Coursera Global Competency Index showed that two-thirds of the world’s population is behind in critical practical skills. According to research by the World Economic Forum, the essential skills needed to perform most job functions will change by an average of 42% by 2022. Anticipating changes of this magnitude, companies are urgently trying to find and acquire the competencies needed to stay competitive. According to a recent PricewaterhouseCoopers survey, a lack of skills is now one of the top three threats to business, from the perspective of executives around the world.
Universities are custodians of knowledge and stewards of human capital, so they must play a major role in preparing a skilled workforce around the world. They should not limit themselves to the confines of their own institution. They must strive to create an ecosystem and use online education to expand their reach and partner with other universities and education providers. This will require a much larger investment than the 3% of total spending currently allocated to technology in the education sector. Like any industry, universities will need digital solutions to overcome big challenges in higher education.
Go Beyond Borders
Using the latest technology, universities can go beyond campus to reach students of all ages, academic or social categories around the world. The process begins with the introduction of tiered online learning; it provides flexibility and affordability. This, in turn, will allow students to master shorter university coursework before embarking on higher education. Technological formats, such as mobile-optimized coursework, allow the student to gain knowledge wherever he or she is. This makes it easier for a young person to adapt to a new learning environment or resume learning after a long break. A more advanced level is when universities use adaptive techniques based on artificial intelligence to personalize education for millions of people and improve its quality.
Universities are already seeing that online higher education programs are producing good results. Top MBA programs, such as Macquarie University’s Master of Business Administration program, the University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign) iMBA program, Kelley Business School’s online MBA and Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business online MBA, already offer online learning more accessible to working professionals. These programs also offer tiered learning – such as a small set of online courses that allow students to address specific competency gaps or add specific skills useful in their careers.
By applying technology in all its diversity, universities can change the lives of millions of people around the world by giving them access to education. But that’s not the only reward. Through deeper engagement and local industry partnerships, world-renowned, prestigious institutions of higher education can effectively foster research and solutions to today’s most pressing problems.
At the center of the ecosystem
The global challenge is to make higher education more accessible around the world. Universities can be the epicenter of educational reform. Through technology, they can join forces and create a shared learning ecosystem, as well as supplement their own programs with the best courses from other institutions. Last year, Monterrey University of Technology of Mexico, Universidad de los Andes of Colombia, and the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile teamed up on La Tríada, a first-of-its-kind collaborative project in which 150,000 students from participating universities have access to 100 online courses. The benefits are not limited to a single curriculum. Universities can also come together to run a common credit and grading system, as well as create virtual collaborative learning spaces or gather ideas from the general audience on what needs to change in existing courses and what programs are missing.
Technology collaborations will also help reduce teacher shortages around the world. This year, media company Inside Higher Ed reported on the shortage of computer science teachers in the U.S. In India, a shortage of academics is holding back the development of top institutions: for example, the leading technology education institution, the Indian Institute of Technology, has a 35% teacher shortage. Digital ecosystems make it easy to bring in subject matter experts from academia or business to offer tailored curricula to students from anywhere in the world. Other possibilities: Universities will be able to call on the best minds from the business sector or conduct online faculty exchanges with other universities. Technological ecosystems also accelerate university research. For example, Quartolio, a research platform based on artificial intelligence, helps researchers from different universities, including Berkeley, MIT and Stanford, build a complete picture and make scientific discoveries at the intersection of different scientific disciplines.
Become a partner for business
The shared history of Stanford and Silicon Valley illustrates the opportunities that come with business and academia collaborations. According to a report from the PitchBook platform, in 2018. Stanford boasted the largest number of student entrepreneurs in the world: 1,178 (as well as 1,015 companies and $28.84 billion in capital raised). As the need for professional skills grows rapidly, there is a need to strengthen the links between business and universities. For example, the School of Mines in Paris is an example of close cooperation with business. The university has links with more than 100 large industrial enterprises. In addition to research collaboration, internships and joint training projects are available.
Human resources shortages around the world are on the rise, and educational institutions and employers around the world need to become partners. These partnerships between universities and employers aim to ensure that students acquire skills that are useful for employment. An example is the Google IT Support Professional Certificate program’s partnership with 25 U.S. community colleges that offer information technology training as part of their core curriculum. There are more than 215,000 unfilled jobs in information systems support in the U.S., and these collaborations address a large competency gap. Google pairs students in these programs with leading IT support hiring employers. These include Walmart and Bank of America, among others. What’s more, the University of London and Northeastern University credit students who graduate from such an online program with a bachelor’s degree.
The mission of higher education institutions is changing with the job market, and the situation is such that education is taking on unprecedented importance. Universities are expected to be active with all categories of students. They have to offer qualifications that are relevant to employers. And employers today are increasingly interested in competencies, not traditional degrees. Higher education institutions should make it easier for students to learn new skills. And training should not be pumped out after graduation – universities should offer continuing education programs to students throughout their graduates’ careers. After all, more and more people today are realizing that lifelong learning is the only way to grow. And technology will be the link in those processes.