The British Council’s Going Global conference in Miami closed today with an urgent warning from young higher education leaders that universities are not providing students with the skills they need to work in the future marketplace.
During the closing plenary, four young innovators under the age of 30 told more than 1,000 higher education leaders from 70 countries that there was often a “disconnect” between university courses and the skills graduates needed to succeed in the workplace. Dale Stephens, founder of UnCollege, a US organisation set up to offer an alternative to a traditional university education, argued that “universities are not being held accountable for the skills gap in the marketplace. They are not teaching the skills that are in demand.”
Nigerian environmental services engineer Yewande Akinola, who has worked extensively in China, said that universities are the best organisations to reduce the global skills gap. “Countries can import and attract skilled workers, but the question is: how can universities teach skills that are appropriate to industries in China and African countries? Industries are not mature enough to offer the skills.”
Zakiya Smith, strategy director of the Lumina Foundation and former White House senior education adviser, said that universities had a responsibility to promote equality. “What’s good for the individual institution is not necessarily the same as what’s good for society. I would urge leaders to think about how your mission is translated outside institutional advancement.”
German-born Hannes Klöpper, managing director and co-founder of online education provider Iversity, said that to stay relevant, higher education institutions must reassess their traditional teaching model. “Universities have to think about how they incorporate non-formal learning into their degree programmes. lt will challenge them to think hard and re-examine about why they continue to operate in the same way they have done for a long time.”
Professor Rebecca Hughes, British Council Director of International Higher Education, closed the conference by telling leaders that ‘resilience’ and ‘complexity’ summed up the challenges of the higher education sector if it was to continue to play a meaningful role. “Of 33 institutions that survive to our times from the 16th century, 29 are universities. How have universities managed to be so long-lasting? It’s simple: universities survive because societies need them. That’s their survival trick, the piece of DNA in their constitutions that makes them the longest-lived human institutions. They change with the times, but they remain unwavering in their core purpose of providing intellectual leadership and serving their local and international communities.”
The event, held at the Miami Beach Convention Center, involved 56 sessions and more than 300 speakers over the course of three days. Delegates discussed pressure points in international higher education including English as a medium of instruction, the impact of MOOCs, and whether sending students abroad was a worthwhile investment.
Journalists who were unable to attend the conference can watch recorded sessions at www.goingglobal2014.com.
Briefings on the key points and quotes from the conference are available at http://www.britishcouncil.org/going-global/going-global-2014-briefings.
Follow the conversation coming out of the conference on Twitter using #goingglobal2014.