Higher education is dead, long live higher education



If technological innovation increased at an exponential rate, as the Moore’s Law clearly explains, there would be a strong need for an equally high rate of adaptation of higher education to the structural changes in society. And this is exactly what we are experiencing nowadays The adaptation rate is a crucial for a market aiming at a constant development without abrupt crisis caused by a number of qualified workers for the new technologies lower than the number requested by firms and institutions.


Unfortunately, nowadays the technological innovation rate is definitely higher than the adaptation rate. We are using out-dated educational models, because the higher education sector is not innovating itself at the same speed. Therefore, in the labour market we are failing to meet the needs of students and the industry in general. In fact, in a survey held by the IBM Institute for Business Value, “71% of responding corporate recruiters indicated that finding applicants with sufficient practical experience is their greatest challenge when recruiting from higher education institutions”.


This result is reported by Michael D. King, Vice President and General Manager of IBM’s Global Education Industry, in the article written for the Harvard Business Review “Why Higher Ed and Business Need to Work Together” (https://hbr.org/2015/07/why-higher-ed-and-business-need-to-work-together), in which the author promotes the idea of a indispensable partnership between higher education sector and the related business.


It is undeniable that entire markets drastically changed in the last few years. For example telecommunications, the financial sector, marketing techniques and the entire way we approach interpersonal relations are not the same anymore. According to King, this situation applies also to the higher education industry, which “have never faced the magnitude of change and disruption it does today”. 


So how can we promote the partnership between academic bodies and firms? What is a possible solution to overcome the adaptation difficulties?


The first step would be to change the centenarian system based on lectures and written exams focusing on those same lectures. According to the opinion of a high percentage of corporate recruiters and to a growing number of student movements asking for a new teaching method from all over the world, academic institutions are requested to deliver technologically advanced experiences using the potential of entirely new industries: analytics, cloud computing and social media. To sum up, in the early XXI century we are looking forward to a stronger integration between the physical and digital world.


But this is only the first step. After a necessary technological advancement, we would not be able to leave out of consideration a more practical approach to education, based on new collaborative education models.


The keyword is employability, which according to Sumantra Ghoshal (1997). "The Individualized Corporation: An Interview with Sumantra Ghoshal" meansdoing value creating work, getting paid for it – and learning at the same time, enhancing the ability to get work in the future”.


How can we enhance the ability of workers in order to make them qualified for the new jobs that the recent technical developments have created? By making them learn how to use the new media and to extract value from big data.


Here come the partnerships between universities and businesses, as in the examples provided by King in his article. San Jose State University and IBM, which partnered “to incorporate experience-based learning and a focus on skills related to social business”; the Emylon Business School, which “delivers personalized, on-demand business education globally via cloud computing”; the Pathways in Technology Early College High Schools (P-TECH), “a new education model that blends career and technical skills”.


The paradigm is shifting towards a more career-oriented skillset, which is needed especially for STEM subjects, the ones most influenced by the new technologies. For this reason, a growing number of platforms complementary to university are appearing and they are displaying unconventional strategies to solve the issue. Gaming platforms, in which interactive and competitive infrastructures create a learning-friendly and entertaining environment for the users; collaborative forums, in which top managers share work experiences with the students, therefore providing useful practical solutions to be combined with a strong theoretical foundation, a synthesis that gives a competitive advantage to a person in the labour market; open libraries, websites in which knowledge is freely shared among the members of the community, in order to foster an environment in which R&D does not find any friction and new scientific studies are heavily founded on previous achievements.


This is the environment that can foster growth and worldwide human development if properly created. And the LEADER Project, established by Leader Network Ltd., is exactly following this educational path. It consists of an online educational platform, in which students, universities and companies are both producers and consumers of contents. It is an ecosystem, because it aims at creating a complete, interdisciplinary, intercultural and innovative educational experience through the extensive use of new technologies. Students are not only involved in online courses organised with the learning techniques previously described, but they also take part into joint research projects and interactive and challenging educational games (such as business cases). The final aim is for partner companies to provide job opportunities to the top students of the platform.


It is clear that many behavioural patterns of our society have dramatically changed in the last decade and we are in the middle of a long adaptation process. It is therefore fundamental to understand the key role that education has always had in supporting changes in human history and to act accordingly to remove useless frictions.


In conclusion, higher education is a non-negligible variable in the equations measuring growth, economic development and society’s wellbeing and it should adapt to the path that technological evolution is following. I therefore want to pay respect to Nelson Mandela, a person that clearly understood the value of education in society as he said:


“Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world”


Erminio Sergio

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