Imagine if Universities were truly Global…

Then try to figure out why they aren’t already.

Now, I know you can already get certifications from MIT or Oxford or a load of other Universities around the world, online, but I imagine something far more powerful than that, something driven by the most substantial global perspective shift since WW2. Covid.

My partner’s sister is a PhD and Professor at Kings College London. She lectured, pre pandemic, for a number of years at Kings and then lost her role when Covid struck. She spent the next 6 months scrambling around trying to find herself a new role in another University. She genuinely considered moving out of London, selling her house, asking her partner to find a new job in another Uni town that might take her on.

Thankfully, after nearly 20 interviews, she found a new role; right back at Kings College London. She’s a published academic, sought after consultant and seasoned lecturer yet had to adapt her entire career’s worth of study to become “relevant” in the eyes of the university. This last item, relevance, is something that we need to focus on.

Universities pre package courses to attract students; or as I like to think of them, customers. Make no mistake, universities are money making machines with the top 20 in the U.K. turning over £19 billion a year. With the ingrained talk track of “you’ll never make anything of yourself unless you get a degree” being prevalent across most western societies, it seems ludicrous for governments to push this agenda when the vast majority of degree holders never actually utilise their degree in the workplace. How is it that nearly half of employed graduates work in non-graduate roles? (Think: Costa Coffee or Starbucks.) Well, they don’t require a minimum of 3–5 years of “real world” experience. In fact, you don’t even need to be able to spell someone’s name right.

Please don’t misunderstand my sentiment here, Universities are incredible institutions of learning and research with one part powering the other. The Oxford-AstraZeneca Vaccine is placed front and centre in my mind during these unprecedented times and the vast majority of human advancement globally is driven from these institutions year on year.

The question I am trying to ask is: if young people spend 4 years getting themselves into thousands of pound’s worth of debt only to be told they don’t have the experience, then surely they should enter the workplace first, gain the experience and then leverage their positions at a later date to complete relevant qualifications? On top of this, utilising their employer’s kitty to pay for a degree that will actually benefit the employer would be far more effective than a young person going straight to uni from college, not really knowing what to do and getting a masters in Geography only to be told it’s as worthless as the promise of “£365mil more to the NHS”.

I’m talking about the future of work, where companies actively fight over the top resource available: the best candidates. I truly believe we will see a marked switch in HR mindsets in the next 10 years. Gone will be the days of companies imposing their requirements. Instead, the new workforce will decide to give their time to a company’s cause; be that making money, saving the planet or otherwise. The companies that come out on top will be the ones who make this perspective shift first, attract the top talent and nurture their workforce.

But back to the “pre-packaged” courses. A combination of subjects wrapped in a bow that gives just enough credibility to allow universities to charge their exorbitant fees yet only have students doing 3-4 lectures a week, now online, pre recorded, accessed through zoom from the student accommodation which also charges exorbitant fees, just to rub salt in the wounds…

If we think back to my sister-in-law, adjusting her qualifications to suit the university she’s now employed by, and instead slightly adjust the landscape (a little imagination is required here) and all of a sudden we see her as a superstar in her highly specialised field. Now imagine that new students, already working in an industry, apply to be tutored by her specifically, because they need a piece of her specialised field for their current role. They pay a fraction of the full fee, don’t need the “pre packaged” course but instead a short course on something niche and they are taking their first step towards their degree. By then predefining the requirements of short courses needed to tick the “degree” box we are starting down the path of highly skilled individuals in highly specialised fields, guided by the education superstars of our time.

Now we’re looking at a whole new world of education, of up-skilling an already specialised workforce by allowing the “new student” to create their own destiny by combining a broad array of highly focused short courses which ultimately lead to gaining a degree specific to themselves and their wants and needs. Employers are happy to invest in their employees as each course has a much higher ROI to them directly and their employees become absolute leaders in their field.

And what about the superstars in other countries? Professors globally become known for their specialisations, now that they are allowed to continue focusing on their field instead of having to become “jack of all subjects”, for lack of a better description. They no longer need to package up an entire degree but can focus on what they do best and share that knowledge with students that are also focused on their key studies. Professors in Norway sharing information with students in India on green energy? Chinese universities running short courses on production at scale with developing countries in Africa? The inherent knowledge share would be nothing short of world altering.

And what’s stopping us? Thanks to dearest Elon we’re about to have rapid internet access in the most remote corners of the globe. Universities pushing back? These money making monsters will find a way to make even more on this, I have no doubt. Do we need to look at a shift in mindset within the private sector? With governments globally spending more each year on internships I can only imagine they would be onboard with this plan. So it’s the imagined talk track we spoke about earlier, the stigma of “you’ll never make anything of yourself unless you have a degree” that we need to combat. I can picture myself with the cardboard sign outside parliament already: “SAY NO TO GEOGRAPHY!”.

There are so many details missing from this plan: how to create a system for managing these new diplomas and certifications; how students are able to combine courses globally yet still gain recognition; how lecturers could become freelancers or hold retainers at certain universities based on their specialisations. However, to save writing War & Peace, perhaps this is just enough to get your mind ticking. The more people who think about this, the faster we can change the world, or at least this little piece of it.

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Seth Royce

If you can’t explain it to a 10 year old or your grandma you don’t understand it…