Stefan Drew

Conventional Education Isn’t The Path to Employment That It Once Was

At last. A respected educator that recognises the perils that FHE currently faces, and has an answer.

Sir Antony Seldon’s recent article and book gave me hope for the future of FHE. For several years I’ve been writing in this column about the threats I see. I’ve suggested ways to prepare for the changes that are coming. Many people have agreed with me but I’ve yet to see much action. So I welcome Seldon’s book.

Seldon forecasts the demise of exams and lecture theatres and asks if Oxford University will become redundant. Personally, though my thoughts might often be considered as radical, I doubt the latter. But I believe Seldon is correct in forecasting the demise of education as we know it today. And he isn’t the only one. More of that, and some answers, in a moment.

The FHE Change Imperative

Within days of Seldon’s book came the IFS report stating what to most of us was obvious, there is a severe and sustained squeeze on FE funding in England. Coupled with UCAS recruitment warnings earlier this year, the sector should be awake to the need for change.

The Education Change Imperative is not limited to these shores. In the US, respected Harvard Business School professor, Clayton Christensen, has warned that half of their 4000 colleges could be bankrupt in 10-15 years. People are waking up to reality and he is being taken seriously by many thoughtful college leaders.

But it’s easy to recognise the need for change, what action is needed?

Leveraged Learning

In a few weeks Leveraged Learning will be published. This book doesn’t come from a learned professor. It’s better than that. It comes from a high school dropout who claims that his return to education, to take an MBA, was his most expensive mistake. The author, Danny Iny, is now a highly successful Montreal based educator. Starting from scratch a few years ago Iny has built an education business that ignores exams and lecture halls. Gone are classrooms and term based education.

Though I constantly hear that education demands exams to prove its worth, Iny’s experience is otherwise. And this isn’t a one man, run it from your spare room, type of business. His business, Mirasee, employs an increasing number of staff and already has a turnover matching some of my UK FE colleges clients. It teaches business and course building and is the shape of things to come.

I’ve worked with Danny Iny since before the inception of Mirasee. His thoughts on education are not traditional. Traditionalists will not easily accept his views. But his business is thriving whilst colleges are under threat.

“Progress continues its inexorable march forward. What was “best in class” gradually becomes the baseline for “good” service”

We no longer think of electricity in our homes as being best in class. It’s the norm. More recently high speed Internet connection was unusual, but is now expected. “The old ways exist” Iny says, “because no one has gotten around to replacing them.”

And education isn’t keeping up says Iny. “many of the hottest jobs today, didn’t exist as recent as 15 years ago”. 15 years ago a degree was the passport to a career that guaranteed a good standard of living. Today many degree holders are stacking shelves, not reaching the potential a degree implies.

Unsuitable education is damaging both students and employers. Reports of university and FE recruitment coming under pressure are understandable where the latter means years of study, a massive debt and a job as a barista, or relying on Uber or Yodel for a minimum wage. For the FE student that is squeezed out by overqualified applicants, for what would have formerly been their employment opportunities, things are no better.

Apprenticeships seem to offer a viable answer for many. But significant drops in apprenticeship recruitment, for whatever reason, are a concern for future youth employment.

Alternatives to Mainstream Education

In previous articles I’ve mentioned a host of alternatives. From MOOCS and video training to full cost training. But I’d be the first to say that, despite each having merit, none provide the whole answer.

In my next article I’ll go into alternatives in a lot more detail. But first let’s examine where we are now .. and then look at what the market wants of graduates at all levels.

Socratic questioning is over 2000 years old and makes both student and teacher think deeply. It has much merit. But so much of teaching relies on the least effective teaching method, the lecture. Why? Well it is controllable. It means we can follow a curriculum and use teaching plans that tell us to move on to a particular topic at a given time. In contrast, true Socratic discourse follows the thought patterns of both teacher AND student. So is harder to control. In an exam based pedagogy, where we have to prove ourselves to Ofsted, the controlled streaming of facts is often preferred by teachers.

Employers, when asked to rank the 20 common factors that they consider when hiring, ranked education at number 20. New York University researchers, Richard Alum and Josipa Roska wrote, “[students] might graduate but they are failing to develop the higher-order cognitive skills widely assumed that students must master”. My own findings are that New York or York, employers can no longer rely on a qualification as being the signal they use to denote a skilled potential recruit. And, sadly, some universities rely on entrance exams rather than qualifications that they say are unable to differentiate between students.

“Incredibly, even as the value of the education signal has declined, its cost has continued to rise.”

Iny quotes tech investor Peter Thiel, “To question education is really dangerous. It is the absolute taboo. It’s like telling the world there is no Santa Clause.”

Iny then goes on to quote Todd Hixson in his Forbes article, “HE is now ground zero for disruption”. Hixson points out the costly issue of the parallel development and delivery of standard curricula by 2000 US colleges and universities. Alongside this he decries the fact that high level STEM courses account for fewer that 10% of all US courses and that the focus is on the degree rather than specific timely courses or skills accomplished.

Clearly these issues are deeply embodied in the land of opportunity. But we are similar. So many colleges developing and teaching the same courses at great expense. It makes me think of Einstein and his thoughts on insanity.

“The only way education can be sustainable and legitimate is to deliver an outcome that is meaningful in the present and future world”

The Budding Effect

Change brings unintended and unexpected consequences. In 1830 Budding invented the lawnmower and the Budding Effect was realised. Lawnmowers gave us close cropped grass and sports proliferated. Bowls, cricket etc are impossible in long grass. But the Budding Effect led to significant employment as a world of sporting and related opportunities opened up. People were suddenly employed making cricket bats and croquet balls and catering for the spectators. The lawnmower prompted spectator sports and television rights! .

Ditto the Internal Combustion Engine and digital innovation. All created new jobs that needed both technical and soft skills. And from the lack of them it’s clear that soft skills are the hardest to teach.

We often hear that digital will destroy jobs. Yet Thomas Frey lists over 100 jobs that will be created. Digital can perform incredible things faster and more accurately than humans. But, ironically, it struggles to differentiate a kitten from a puppy!

I believe education needs to teach the soft skills employers and prospective employees need, and then provide job specific upskilling courses at all career stages. That’s not to say education for its own sake is to be decried. But it doesn’t put bread on the table.

Education Transition Imperatives

Space prevents me from going in depth on this topic. There will be more in a future article. But part of the answer lies in the catering curriculum. Chefs practise “mise en place”. Having everything in its place, where it can be quickly accessed as and when needed.

MOOCS demonstrate this to an extent. So potentially do MicroDegrees and BitDegrees. But it is still the tip of the Change Imperative iceberg.

We need to think radically. Nature favours change to drive natural selection. And we must change.

I’ll explore Transition Imperatives in my next articles but for now let me leave you with a thought from Danny Iny.

“Anything you learn is going to become obsolete within a decade”

I agree with his sentiment though would exchange “Anything” with “Most of what you’ll learn…”

Stefan Drew, FHE Marketing Consultant

Stefan Drew Newsroom Strap

Copyright © 2018 FE News

About Stefan DrewStefan was previously director of marketing at two FHE colleges and for over a decade has consulted with colleges, universities and private providers throughout the UK, Europe, Africa and the US. Connect with Stefan on LinkedIn  

PS In the spirit of traditional exams. Discuss in the comments box below. Your answer should not exceed 500 words!

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