The impending climate of recession is raising concerns about skyrocketing student debt. Along with a deeply unaffordable housing market, these factors call for universities to be more relevant in terms of preparing students for employability.
This is a break with the traditional mission of universities. Economist George Fallis, professor emeritus at York University, notes that universities have traditionally aimed “to provide a liberal education for undergraduates, to conduct research and to contribute to society, including the economy and Culture “.
It is what has shaped independent thinkers and better citizens. While there is much merit in preparing better citizens, this goal can be compatible with helping students develop skills to earn a living while creating accessible and relevant educational opportunities.
Read more: Universities have thrived despite past disruptions and could go from strength to strength after COVID-19
In Canada, having a bachelor’s degree increases a person’s chances of employment by almost 25% compared to having only a high school diploma, but not all students benefit of these advantages in the same way.
Three years after graduation, 90% of Canadian university graduates are employed, but women and humanities graduates are more likely to work part-time. For some, it’s by choice, but 42% work part-time involuntarily. Another concern is that four out of five graduates work in a field somewhat related to their studies, but nearly 20% work in unrelated fields.
What’s worse is that many graduates are underemployed, meaning they work in jobs that require less than a bachelor’s degree. Immigrant women who have university degrees from institutions outside Canada are more likely to experience persistent overqualification.
In Canada, many low-income people were pushed into poverty as the pandemic unfolded. Although recessions have been known to trigger an increase in the number of people seeking post-secondary education, it is not clear that this means committing to a multi-year degree.
Integrated professional experiences
In 2021, Times Higher Education – an organization that provides data on universities – released a list of universities producing the most employable graduates, ranked by companies around the world. While it’s unclear which companies participated or what fields they represent, according to this ranking, the named institutions often incorporate work experiences into their degrees, such as a mix of entrepreneurial hubs for start-ups and business incubators. innovation and work-integrated learning opportunities.
Here are four ways universities can adapt their offerings to become more relevant to students:
1. Micro certificates
According to Colleges and Institutes Canada, a “micro credential is a certification of assessed skills that is additional, alternative or complementary to, or a component of, a formal qualification”.
Micro-credentials are short, modular programs or courses focused on developing skills and competencies to enable students to quickly enter the Canadian labor market and work in industries and communities in need of labor. work.
Universities can offer micro-degrees by repackaging courses, creating agile courses that meet specific job market needs, and developing rigorous assessment methods that make them credible.
A report prepared for the British Columbia Council on Admissions and Transfer — a not-for-profit organization that governs credit transfer agreements between post-secondary institutions — notes that Thompson Rivers University and Simon Fraser are universities with best practices in matter of offering microcredit courses. In Ontario, eCampusOntario is working to support pilot projects.
2. Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition
Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition (LAR) is a process that allows individuals to gain formal recognition of their prior learning and skills against established standards and policies in higher education institutions.
PLAR saves a person from having to relearn what they have already acquired through previous formal or informal learning experiences in educational or experiential settings. This saves students time and money if they can earn credit for certain programs or certifications.
A recent study by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, a non-profit organization in the United States that helps Western states and institutions address employment and higher education issues, showed that PLAR increased mature student completion rates by 17%.
Universities can offer PLAR services through individual portfolio or project reviews and challenges that provide evidence of equivalency of skills and competencies learned in programs. For example, Athabasca University in Alberta has a Learning Accreditation Center with full PLAR services.
Mentoring by community members and industry representatives, as well as student leadership in peer mentoring, are key aspects of human connection. Developing human relationships is essential for college students as they gain expertise in particular areas.
Students need a sense of belonging, especially since college campuses closed in the wake of the pandemic. Universities can explore new ways to create mentoring programs, whether traditional individual mentoring, group mentoring, team mentoring, peer mentoring or online mentoring, through the through their alumni networks or partners.
Universities can develop meaningful partnerships by coordinating their efforts to reach businesses, community organizations and government agencies. Benefits to universities and students from partnerships include student access to mentorship, employment opportunities, and experiential learning.
These partnerships can take many forms, such as research projects, internships, co-op placements, funded doctoral or postdoctoral fellowships, as well as networking events, prototype or product development seminars, skills, innovation challenges or alliances to provide mentorship to students.
These four mechanisms are nothing new, but through a fine mesh of micro-credentials, PLAR, mentoring and partnerships, universities can improve the relevance of what students learn. It can also increase their chances of employability while being more responsive to different needs and without disrupting the whole system.