The other day, a leader from one of the world’ largest companies, Amazon, made an interesting remark
while speaking before a gathering of engineering college students and teachers. University education is about breadth of knowledge. You get to study many subjects during your three or four year programme and gather a lot of knowledge across domains. But when it comes to jobs in an increasingly technology-led world, recruiters or companies look for deep knowledge in particular areas.
That, in sum, was the point of his speech. Depth of knowledge. Studying deeply. But when we look at a typical university or college system in our country, we can see the difficulty in solving this problem of offering deep knowledge to students in particular domains or subjects.
A typical engineering student in a state like Tamil Nadu has his/her day cut out. An hour of travel, six to seven hours of class, another one hour of travel, and a few hours to catch up with assignments. So, the only way a student who is looking to make a career or join a high end job in the technology space today, is to go beyond the syllabus, spend time, effort and money to gain specific technology or domain skills.
Take for example, a high end skill such as “good coding”. Many students in colleges will claim to have coding skills, but employability surveys and recruiters’ internal reports in large organisations clearly note that “good coding” is an extremely rare skill. It is estimated that if 200 students attend a coding contest of a recruiting company or a manpower agency, hardly 10 of them make the final cut and find a job in a high tech company.
In an anachronistic and outdated system such as the one prevailing in most states – where a regional or a government university monitors at least 300 to 400 colleges, it is impossible for the slow moving system to offer such courses which lead to better jobs for the learners.
This is where the dichotomy lies. Universities cannot be wished away. They are centres of learning, and academics. Their certification still reigns supreme among recruiters, and in society at large too, because a degree is perceived as the quantification of a young mind’s capability and knowledge.
Universities are the centres of research that produce the next generation knowledge. A university degree or a further qualification like masters or doctorate degrees increase a person’s net recognition in society. Finally, they contribute to social cohesion by being a pathway for social and economic advancement. An increasing number of students from lower economic strata are accessing and succeeding in university education and heading into jobs they never would have imagined, without university education.
So what does it mean to study in a university, get qualified and still be able to gain deep study or domain skills to succeed in a job market – at least for those who want to study for making a career with their knowledge / qualification?
The choices are obvious
Either the university system has to become far lighter. Academic policies should seek to: strengthen initial graduate learning; anticipate and respond better to changing skill needs; increase the use of students’ skills; and improve incentives for further learning, even while preparing the students for the digital world.
Can universities hope to achieve this in the present circumstances.
That leaves students with little choice, except to find those skills themselves. A system that offers inexpensive skills and competencies training, flexible in terms of timing, and technology enabled, may be the only way.
— The writer heads Strategy at www.361dm.com