Are university degree programmes in danger?

Learning, competences, skills and employment is a chain that cannot break; otherwise, we may see many university programmes discontinued and many school students choosing to receive learning outside the school system

By Dr Gregory Makrides

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School experiment with apples. School students extract electricity from apples, use of the energy of a chemical reaction. Learning at table STEM and STEAM engineering science education class.
School experiment with apples. School students extract electricity from apples, use of the energy of a chemical reaction. Learning at table STEM and STEAM engineering science education class.

Published: Wed 27 Dec 2023, 1:15 PM

The evolution of education and technology and its impact in the learning process and related methods of learning is setting significant questions as to whether the education systems in many countries are responding to research studies that are suggesting to them adapting their education systems to the needs of learners and to the needs of the employers and industry.

Learning, Competences, Skills and Employment is a chain that cannot break; otherwise, we may see many university programmes discontinued and many school students choosing to receive learning outside the school system. In this article, we will concentrate on higher education.

For many years now, studies indicate that when the employers are considering applicants for new jobs, they rank credentials in the following priority sequence:

No1: Communication

No2: Competences and skills

No3: Academic degrees

This fact exists for at least 15 years now but the academic world does not seem to get the message. If employers find an alternative to a university degree as evidence of competence and skill for the employee work they need, then simply employers will not be requesting a university degree from new applicants and this will spark the beginning of closing of certain university programmes. Could this happen? Well the new EU initiative, called micro-credentials, a competence and skill based credential for which, at the moment, there is a great confusion among professionals of what exactly is a mirco-credential, may eventually become the replacement of many university degree programmes.

A micro-credential could offer to employers the proven certification or validation that the employee is able to do certain work tasks, while a university degree indicates that some day in the past the employee was able to have a knowledge that was tested and has successfully new the answers to the knowledge questions. One may say that in certain programmes students have to do laboratory work so they develop skills but one should ask the industry how close to real industry situations are the laboratory experiments that university students are executing.

This degree programme discontinue scenario may be prevented by universities if they expand their blended degree programmes to include serious industry internships and skills development so the graduates need less on the job training and the employer can be confident that the blended degree provides competence and skills validated evidence that he needs to receive from the employee.

Dr Gregory Makrides
Dr Gregory Makrides

In broader terms, the employers need employees who know how to apply knowledge and have the competence and skill to do it.

What about the rank 1 Communication Skill? It is obviously true that no matter how much knowledge one has and no matter how good competences and skills one has, if these knowledge and competences cannot be communicated effectively to a third person or by any means, then what one knows may be useless. Without communication skills, one cannot explain products and processes and cannot be a good collaborator with other people and most importantly, the person cannot become a co-creator.

As an example, let’s consider a smart phone. Knowledge is to know what the smart phone can do. Competence is to know the commands of operation. Skill is to be able to use the smart phone applying your knowledge and competence. However, no employer will hire you to sell the smart phone unless you can communicate your knowledge, competence and skills to a customer.

It has been known from research that Project Based Learning (PBL) is a learning method that can help students at all levels to develop competences and skills. Learning systems require more time to apply such approaches, in either school education or in higher education, but teachers in all levels need training to be able to do this. The learning of knowledge in the way most systems are applying through the usual classrooms will eventually find its replacement with what we call micro-learning or most probably called video-learning. These are short videos, maximum 10 min each, that provide knowledge to the user, a process that can be repeated as many times as needed and can be accessed at any time and at any place.

The newly-approved EU co-funded project “STEAME Teacher Facilitators Academy”, which started in June 2023, is promising to provide a solution to the above. The project will focus on the STEAME PBL learning and will develop support resources for both service teachers and student teachers. More information on the aims and objectives of this project can be found in www.steame-academy.eu

Dr Gregory Makrides is Professor of STEAME Education, University of National Education Commission, Krakow, Poland; President, Cyprus Mathematical Society; President, European Association of Career Guidance; and President, European Association of ERASMUS Coordinators.


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