University Problems and Solutions

Solutions to Improve Post Secondary Education 

There are many problems in the education industry. Before solutions can be found, those who are employed in this industry must recognise its deficiencies and its failure to live up to its potential.  Here are just some of the issues:

  • STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) education is in trouble - STEM enrolments recently hit a 20-year low   
  • Huge hit to GDP - as a consequence of falling STEM enrolments Australia will lose $120 billion in GDP
  • Trade training in decline - fewer enrolments and fewer students completing apprenticeships. 
  • University graduates not getting jobs - students are studying for jobs that don't exist.
  • Cost of university and vocational education blowing out - with employment uncertainty at the end of studies students from lower socioeconomic status will be driven away.  
  • Quality of education in decline – in the 1970’s Australian diplomas were typically 2000+ hours duration but today they are often completed in under half that time (in a more complex world, the human mind cannot learn more in less time!)
  • Lack of transferable training and qualifications - whereas people used to train once for a career for life, today they change careers several times in a working life.
  • Changing nature of the workforce - an ever-increasing percentage of the workforce is self-employed and soon it will be the majority, but few are trained to cope with these demands.
  • Need for forward thinking - technology is changing the nature of work faster than what workers can train for.  If you commence a 3-year course learning to do a job a certain way, it is likely to need to be done a different way before you complete your qualification (this never used to happen, but it does today).
  • Shrinking education budget - the budget for actual course delivery has been eaten into by bureaucracy, quality control management, marketing, administration, etc. In some instances, less than 50% of the education budget ends up getting spent on actually educating people.
  • Counterproductive validation or accreditation of curriculum - it commonly takes years from identifying a need to developing curriculum, accrediting it, then funding and delivering it, by which time the identified need is no longer relevant.
  • Not enough recognition of learning - there is an industry trend away from the significance of qualifications, but a growing importance being placed upon learning.

Solution 1.  Stop thinking of education as fitting neatly into 20th century classifications of preschool, primary school, secondary school, university, vocational and adult education, CPD, etc. The 21st century is very different and a classification system constructed to fit the 20th century is no longer relevant.

Solution 2.  Better apply the vast knowledge we have about educational psychology. Today we understand how people learn better than we ever have before, better even than just a few years ago. This knowledge is advancing rapidly and yet most education is still based upon ideas that are decades old, and sometimes older. Most professional educators are simply not even aware of the importance of keeping up to date with their understanding of educational psychology, let alone applying it.
Treat each student as an individual. Recognise one size does not fit all. Some people are hardwired to learn by processing information, and others learn by collecting and organising information. Some learn by focusing on how, while others need to focus on why. Learning experiences must be personalised far more than they currently are.

Solution 3.  Focus more on core skills and less on specific skills, because the specifics change so fast. People need to learn how to think laterally, innovate, create and adapt. Important core skills include communication skills (IT & writing), connectivity habits (e.g. interpersonal communication, networking online), attitude, passion and a measured approach. These are all critical skills to have today. Some people may not have the inherent psychological traits to be entrepreneurial, but everyone can have a more effective career by communicating better, connecting with others better, having a more positive and passionate attitude towards work, and having greater awareness of their own strengths and weaknesses. Through this awareness, people can be better measured in choosing what they do and what they do not do, and hence lead more satisfying work lives and be more fulfilled as individuals. 

Solution 4.  Introduce blended learning on a large scale to offset funding issues. For example, a degree may constitute only one year on-campus with other years undertaken via online study, on-the-job learning, volunteer work, mentoring programs, CPD, or other means.

Solution 5.  Greater focus on continuing professional development – instead of having to complete 3 years or more of learning before starting a career, perhaps this could be reduced to only 18 months before starting the career with the second 18 months of learning as CPD spread over the first 5 or 10 years as they progress through their career.  For example, teachers can be better teachers with more CPD as they work rather than relying on what they learned 10 years earlier,. The current CPD is often seen as "a problem to get through or a token application rather than a constructive way of making the worker more effective at their job". Workers should be viewed as continuing learners throughout a career.

Solution 6. Cap the percentage of education budget spent on runaway costs that are eating into non-course delivery. Quality control should cost no more than 2%. Administration should cost no more than 10%. Marketing should cost no more than no more than 10%. All these fees eat into the bottom line which is the provision of learning.

Solution 7.  Deregulate. The speed of delivering course needs must be top priority, and must override any process of course validation and funding. Courses no longer work if you need to wait to get accredited or have funding allocated. The challenge is to balance quality management with relevant course delivery, and using third-party external quality control in such a fast-changing education environment simply does not work. There needs to be massive deregulation of validation systems away from accreditation authorities. Quality control needs to be invested back into frontline managers of course delivery.

Solution 8. Stop wasting resources trying to preserve the importance of qualifications. Place more focus on promoting learning and remove resources from propping up the importance of formal qualifications. In critical disciplines such as medicine and law where quality control is more sensitive; establish validation or licensing systems separate to education, much the same as a car driving licence is separate to driver education. This way the licencing cannot hijack funding or other resources from the learning in such critical disciplines.

Solution 9.  Use technology in better and smarter ways. Possibilities keep changing, and hence the course delivery needs to keep changing. Many institutions use course delivery software that is behind the times, and which is not tailored to the capabilities of the most cutting-edge technology.

Solution 10.  Personalise learning experiences by creating a greater variety of learning options through the use of technology (better automated and customised online courses), and by providing stronger personalised support (help desks, mentoring, tutoring).

Solution 11.  Recognise learning as a journey. Education should be viewed as an orchestrated learning experience rather than a series of predetermined outcomes.

Solution 12.  Enlist people who are not embedded in old systems. Bureaucrats and educators whose careers are invested in maintaining systems established in the 20th century are largely incapable of seeing the possibilities for constructive change in education to meet the constantly changing needs of the 21st century.


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