The quality of a university degree has come recently come under scrutiny following an increase in graduates entering the potential work force with limited skills. Such findings require raising a torch into the issues undermining the quality of our education.
An engaging conversation with some of the graduates reveals that the literacy of university graduates is declining, knowledge of basic facts about our civic life is abysmally absent, and that critical learning skills of students advance little during the university years.
Despite the fact that the outcry for jobs is deafening, we must accept that a good percentage of job seekers would not be able to effectively perform, were the jobs offered anyway.
One of the major issues is that some business-oriented universities are adapting to student expectations in a desperate attempt to keep in business, which addresses the problem in a negative manner. The real issue with expectations is getting students to understand what the world expects from them, not to conform to their expectations from us. If a student is used to reading mainly tweets and not books, it is not the job of the university to start teaching in a tweet-friendly way, but rather to show students that, fun though it may be, a tweet is not a format conducive to complex, detailed, or nuanced exposition or argument. Instead, students must be informed that there are other avenues—broad and exciting avenues—down which intellectual discourse can travel.
Then there is the cult of content! A university education—at its best at least—is more than a series of courses that deliver content to the student. Why, many ask, would students want to sit through lectures with their local run-of-the-mill professor when they could get higher-quality practical lectures on the same on you tube? To this, there are many responses, but one that is heard too little is that our students deserve more than the strict factual content covered by their course, and indeed, more than just the courses. For example, how productive would a general English course at university be if all the lecturer did was teach theory and not practice to students who aren’t English majors?
Lest this is misunderstood, courses are paramount- no doubt- but we must create opportunities for further learning outside the classroom. These students deserve the conversations and arguments in the hallways after classes, long walks home with a head swimming from a revelatory lecture, late nights conducting personal experiments or organizing a debate. These are activities that have long been associated with higher education, though they have not been strictly part of degree programs. For that reason, it’s easy to ignore them when planning for the future.
Besides, the trail of moonlighters who are busy with everything and nothing in particular is another hazard to the quality of education. Realistically speaking, with the peanuts lecturers take home, they are bound to seek other means of survival. The truth is that only a quarter of our university employees are permanently employed; the majority have to work on hourly contracts which by the way, are usually remunerated a year or two long after the semester ended. With such frustrations, the students are cheated upon.
At its best, a university is a gathering place. A place where we bring as many of the most exciting minds we can find and let them create, and nurture, and support all manner of learning: a place where individuals are practically taught to give service to the world. To be sure, this sounds like a place whose definition is imprecise and its results hard to quantify yet it is the naked truth. It is this complexity that grooms highly intellectual people. Should we dilute this complexity, we will be left with highly motivated high-scholars in passionate pursuit of adventure.
The writer is a lecturer at The Adventist University of Central Africa