Wednesday, 21 November 2012

A vision for the University in 2022

While talking to a delegate in the WISE 2012 event, I was asked the question of what would be my vision for my University over a 10-year period. This question left me in a reflective process for a few days. It is indeed very difficult to come up with a vision. But I will try.

I would like to see the University become the leading institution for research and development in national key priority areas –
  1. Renaissance of the Education System
  2. Renewable Energy
  3. Land Transportation Efficiency
  4. Healthcare improvement – diabetes, cardio-vascular diseases, hypertension, life hygiene
  5. Innovative Models for Poverty Reduction
  6. Water Treatment and Retention to solve drought problems and to diminish dependency on rainfall.
  7. Innovative ICT applications to improve the public services
  8. Innovative Economic Policies Development 
  9. Other elements related to national priorities.
2. Replace the current promotion system which makes academics become individualists, egoists and research paper production machines with no or little real world applications and bulk education dispensers.

3. Improve the regional presence of the University through establishment of a dual-mode university system. This focuses on distance education through e-learning to increase access to foreign students and to enable them to learn without the need to be physically present on the university campus.

4. Encourage academics and students to become entrepreneurs and to make money out of their joint research and development activities and to set up their own enterprises.

5. Encourage mobility of academics through reduction of bureaucracy and increased academic freedom within an approved framework.

6. A fully decentralized system of education administration and management.This will allow the university to evolve at a much faster pace.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Matching workplace needs with educational provisions

WISE Session on matching education with workplace needs
The World Innovation Summit for Education 2012 was held in Doha and organized by the Qatar Foundation from the 13th-15th November. This is according to international experts and observers, one of the major landmark event related to global education and this year about 1200 persons were present.

I decided to attend the debate on ‘’Matching Education with Workplace Needs” which is one of the long standing issues with respect to our local education system in Mauritius.

Major points raised from the panel


1. Vocational training has a secondary value in most countries but it is amazing how many jobs vacancies do actually exist in the TVET areas.

2. There is a need to change the perceived quality of jobs in TVET sector and to provide decent pay for people in these areas..

3. We have a system (global) designed to fail. Education providers, employers and youth live in parallel universe.

4. Classroom training results in high youth employment rate. Countries that have departed from this and merged education with work have reduced youth unemployment rate (e.g Germany)

5. The need for Meta skills: Skills about knowing how to acquire new skills as the modern workforce means on average one employee will have eight to ten jobs in their career compared to two or three jobs a decade ago.

Some personal reflections
What if we have free online tertiary education coupled with conventional vocational programmes. . .? 
I mean here that many youngsters want to go to university and to have kinds of white-collar job and later on find that their aspirations are not being met, they are not getting jobs they want and on top of that in most of these cases the pay is not decent.

A way to encourage youngsters to embrace such professions could be to find a parallel where they can also benefit from university education while following technical and vocational training. And one of those ways include the provision of online tertiary education where youngsters can get an online degree and acquire academic competencies and higher order cognitive skills while at the same time get prepared to face job market where there are real demands through vocational training. This can allow youngsters to join in the work environment earlier and there reduce unemployment rate among youths.

The problem of qualifications – required job skills mismatch 

Universities have always been on the culprit side when it comes to the perceived mismatch that exists between the potential jobseekers qualifications and the actual skill that a particular job requires. We could have understood this if someone with a degree in management points in an interview or applies for a job where a degree in computing is needed! But here it is not the fault of the university who trained the student in management but may well be a wrong choice of the student and this is mainly a career guidance related issue.

The second potential issue could be that we badly need 200 aeronautical engineers but there is no such training at universities to form such professionals. That could well be a government policy incoherence with respect to the potential development goals of a country, It can again by no means be the fault of the university,

But then comes in the other issue which is where universities take the burden of guilt. I will write here about the local context the University of Mauritius itself as a case study. Lets take the case of an IT company X. X specializes in the use of one software in particular and lets say its called SAP. Now X tells the University that the computer science course is not adapted to industry needs because none of the students that come out with a degree in IT know SAP. Then comes in company Y, which works with a particular software called lets say Compiere. Now company Y comes to the University and says their programme is not adapted to industry needs as Compiere is the one that is needed and University does not cover this software in their training.

And if a hundred such companies exist where each of them are promoting their businesses want the university to train people to work on their specific business tools, how on earth can a university manage this? Worse of all the pace at which the technology evolves is just phenomenal. Can universities cope with such type of evolution to mass customize syllabuses at very short intervals to suit in the current exigencies of business people? In five years, when the labour in the local Mauritius starts to become ‘’expensive’’ they businesses just pack up for greener horizons. What happens then to the graduates who are nufg but only experts on one software which by the time they are jobless have become obsolete software?

I do not think it is the role of universities to follow the job market at such close levels. There is a need to maintain the safe distance so that accidents can be avoided just in time. Universities prepare individuals and leaders for life, to face challenges and to come with innovative solutions. Universities do not form people to repair the wheels of a bicycle but to find ways to make the future generation wheels much better than the current ones.

The real problem is in fact not mismatch of education providers with the needs of the workforce. The problem is in reality related to the fact that employers want ready-made products for their system to consume but they rarely want to invest in the making of those products with the fear that if there is an excess in productivity, then the consumers will be no other than their own competitors. This has been experienced at the University of Mauritius some years ago when a very big company approached the university to mount a industry specific IT course. Under the operational model, the university was supposed to enrol unemployed IT graduates on a specialised post-graduate diploma. The resource persons would be from the industry to teach a core theory part and then the students would be on paid placement in that particular company for 6 months. After completion of the course and training the company could hire those it feels would be more appropriate to their expectations, while those who did not make it were supposed to have improved their employability for other potential employers. The whole process was funded mainly by Government funds.

The first batch worked well but when it came to the second batch, the company stressed that they would make an interview prior to recruiting the students and they will select those that they feel can get into the course.

Lesson to be retained:

1. They simply wanted to get the government to fund the training of people they have already decided would work for them at the expense of all those who could have a chance to get employed by other employers and thus reducing the gap between academic training and workforce needs.

2. When the University did not agree with them on this principle initially, the third batch of training actually never happened.
3. The private sector, joined hands to develop the ICT academy a few years ago with the aim to show the universities that they can actually train their own human resources, but only recently a press article highlighted the numerous issues they faced and that they had not yet been operational......

These three elements provide us with food for thoughts of the real issue behind skills mismatch and academic training...

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Study Visit of Kenyan Ministry of Education Delegation

The VCILT received the visit of a Kenyan delegation on the 29th October 2012 of officials representing the Ministry of Education. The discussion centered about the VCILT experiences in teacher training and the integration of ICT in education. A very fruitful encounter that lasted 3 hours whereby the issues surrounding ICT in education were discussed with respect to what the Kenyan Government wants to do.