The world has changed fundamentally, particularly over the past 15 years or so, and it continues to change with great rapidity.
The major driver is globalization which has led to the close integration of national economies, a fact that has become very painfully obvious during the current financial and economic crisis. Never before has the world been more interconnected.
As a consequence, people today are pushed much more closely together, both in real and virtual space. Our graduates are highly likely to be working and interacting with people of many nationalities, from different cultures and backgrounds.
We are now also entering the era of knowledge societies and economies. This reflects the rising importance of knowledge & innovation as a key driver of economic growth and societal development.
Interestingly, Sir Winston Churchill foresaw this when he said, “The empires of the future are the empires of the mind”.
The critical question for us is this: How should universities respond to this rapidly changing landscape? Taking a more positive stance, we can frame the question in another way, that is: How can universities help shape the evolving landscape, and indeed, help shape the future?
I believe that universities can help shape the future in several ways: First, we have to shift from preparing our graduates for “a career-for-life” to preparing them for “a lifetime of careers”.
In the past, the average graduate could do perhaps 3-4 jobs in the lifetime of their careers. Today, the average graduate would expect to change jobs several times often in completely different sectors. Furthermore, our graduates often don’t start off in jobs directly related to their degrees.
The implications for education are profound. It means that we have to shift from narrow, specialized training for a particular industry to broad-based education.
That is rigor and depth in a field, but with sufficient exposure to a range of other disciplines. Critical thinking skills are even more important in this situation.
Students also must “learn how to learn” so that they can continue learning throughout their careers and be able to periodically “re-tool” or “re-skill” along the way.
Second, we have to balance “training of the mind” with “developing the whole individual”.
We live in a world of rapid and often, difficult, change. Much of this change is driven by spectacular advances in technology.
Our graduates need to be resilient to rapid change, AND also have a “can-do” attitude to seize new opportunities. They need good “people-skills” in order to succeed.
In other words, universities have to carefully consider the right balance between “learning in the classroom” with “learning outside the classroom”.
We must create many co-curricular opportunities for our students to go out of their comfort zone, to test themselves, to fail and to pick themselves up again.
Third, we have to shift from educating students for “local” settings TO educating them for global settings. We live in a much more interconnected world.
We come into frequent contact with diverse cultures and social perspectives, with people from many different parts of the world. Our graduates need to appreciate different cultural perspectives and be able to operate effectively in different cultural and social settings.
To do so, they must respect and value diversity. To be constructive members and leaders of society, values, ethics and responsibility are important attributes nurtured in the university setting.
I fundamentally believe that local universities should transform themselves in order to cope with the challenges, and to capitalize upon the opportunities presented by the rapidly changing and competitive landscape.
The days of a career-for-life no longer apply. We have to prepare our graduates for a lifetime-of-careers.
Liban Mugabo is a graduate student in Singapore