The Tertiary Education Revolution

Dr. Purushothaman
November 30, 2013

Introduction The formal practices of educating people need a serious overhaul. Most university and college institutions have become exactly that, institutions. They are like dinosaurs in the modern era of technology, providing the same generic types of courses they have provided for decades. The subtle difference is that they are now embracing modern technology; however, what they have in fact done is to take an old tired methodology and converted it into web-based delivery. There have been many attempts over time to include industry in assisting in curriculum development, with the intention of producing graduates more suited to industry needs. This has in most part failed, as from an industry perspective; most graduates still require further substantial training in the work place after graduation. In the modern global economy with fierce competition from countries such as China, India, other Asian, East European and South American countries, western industries no longer have the luxury of extended on the job training, nor the luxury of being forced into situations where management positions need to be filled by sub standard educated or trained people. This situation has emerged because the educators have fallen short of delivering graduates who are capable of being far more productive at an earlier stage after graduation. At a social level, modern day communities have less disposable time available, less disposable income and suffer more pressures to perform in the workplace. The community at large needs more focused relevant education and training that they can weave into an already busy schedule. They need to spend the minimum of time with the maximum outcome of being instant value adding contributors in the workplace. Identifying the problems Accreditation Cost Most accreditation bodies are government controlled and yet charge many thousands of dollars for accreditation, including a sizable application fee which of course is non-refundable. Are these organizations serious? All these exorbitant fees ensure is a large percentage of potentially exceptional education or training is excluded from any innovation to the public. How does any sensible person expect small to medium providers to gain accreditation with such a high cost base before they are even likely to get accreditation, compounded by the high cost of professional resources required to develop any form of training? The second issue is that education and training are without doubt the platform for the evolution to civilized societies, progress and sensible social structures. The exorbitant cost of accreditation contributes to the fact that we continue to place education and training out of reach of those who most need it, the socially disadvantaged. The third issue is we as a society seem to accept the fact that 80 percent of start up small businesses fail in the first three years. The other 20% of small businesses struggle for years and 70% of those fail after five years. Adequate training and education is out of their reach, due to cost, time and relevance. Economies survive or fail on the success of small business, and yet from a training and education point of view we shamelessly shut them out! It appears that the industry has become a club of self-centered academics, run by incompetent bureaucrats, driven by self-interest and supported by equally incompetent and self-serving governments.   Time Frames Most organizations involved in accreditation claim that accreditation can be done within three months! Really? It would be interesting to see figures on how many applications are approved in three months, in six months and twelve months. These figures of course are not published and if they were, one could expect that the blame for such extended time frames would be placed solely on the applicants. The next part of the accreditation process clearly restricts any changes without the renewed accreditation process being followed. Assuming that the three month time frame is true, then how does a course creator keep up to date with technologies such as the web, mobile applications, particle physics, evolution, marine biology, electronics to name only a few. In some industries, three months is a long time. Possible Solutions In the electrical trades industry, there is a comprehensive and well-structured electrical standard, which is constantly updated. The industry does not have to go through the expensive and derelict procedures of accreditation. The industry accepts that it is their responsibility to keep abreast of the standards and to apply them in the field, and understand the consequences if they fail to apply these standards. The standards have been formulated by practitioners, rather than bureaucrats, and are a system that serves the community very well. A similar form of education and training standards could be formulated in the same way as the electrical trades industry, with training providers obtaining licenses to create, develop or to deliver education and training courses to the public. The consequences of not meeting these standards, or operating without a license should be severe enough to deter the honest ones and remove the dishonest segments of the industry. The licensing needs to be clear, easily available to anyone who is dedicated to quality training and education and be affordable. With interactive web technology, there are no excuses for being able to monitor education and training courses from a regulatory standpoint. Governments Governments need to become organized. We have a situation of duplicity between state and federal governments, which although improving very slowly, require a greater sense of urgency. If training must be administered by government at all (and this is questionable) then at least lets deal with one body on a national basis. Governments have a reputation for squandering taxpayers money on many fronts and education is no exception. The many millions of dollars squandered each year on education and training, only make education and training more expensive, less accessible to the socially disadvantaged, and ensure that small players are excluded from the industry. If governments conformed to the same rules as corporations, most of them either would be in goal or would have a completely new perspective on spending taxpayers money. Risk There have unfortunately been too many cases of training providers, getting fees from students and then filing for bankruptcy, resulting in the students losing all their money. This kind of behavior does nothing for the industry, the country or the community and perpetrators should be severely dealt with. Part of the bureaucratic standards and accreditation processes are supposedly designed to eliminate or minimize this risk. This further demonstrates the ineptitude of those trying to govern the education and training industry. This policy has never succeeded and is unlikely to in the future Possible Solutions Governments get out of the business of regulation. Redeploy the bureaucrats elsewhere and support the industry financially as well as providing relevant resources to develop their own standards, licensing processes, and regulation. The body that formulates these standards must be a balanced blend of academics, practitioners, industry representatives (not HR managers, but representatives who have to deal with the day-to-day activities of the business) and students who have completed at least 3 years tertiary education. The federal member charged with the education and training portfolio should chair this panel. If governments displaced 100 senior to middle management bureaucrats there would be millions of dollars saved not only wages, benefits and all the on costs involved in supporting these positions, but also in productivity gains. This money more effective supporting some of the solutions discussed in this article. In terms of risk, the solution is relatively simple. The new education and training body would have a trust account, where all fees for private or non-profit organizations are paid into that trust account. Once the course has been delivered, the organization may then claim the fees, against a reliable form of proof. There will need to be a standard series of exclusion clauses, such as if a student does nothing after the deposit has been paid for a pre determined period of time then the fees are lost and paid to the provider. If on the other hand the provider does not deliver within a designated period the fees are returned to the student. In relation to the GST, the solution is simple, change the legislation. Education and Training Institutions Google Australian higher education and training institutions and 4,030,000 results become available. Google International higher education and training institutions 35,500,000 results become available. Obviously, there are not that many institutions; however, the point is that there are far too many to contend with. How are private providers going to determine which of these institutions are relevant and beneficial to them. When browsing through many of these websites, it is disgraceful. Many of the websites are substandard, the content within them suffer from content bankruptcy, there is no unique selling proposition offered, and yet they want fees to become a member. It seems that everyone wants accreditation for education and training providers, but there appears to be no standards, regulation, or accreditation for the institutions! Possible Solutions The best solution is to have a part government, part industry funded national institute for education and training, not run by bureaucrats but run as a non-profit independent organization by properly qualified employees from the education and training industry. It is clearly understood that business education needs differ from web development needs as an example, so to solve this issue, the institute is structured with its main board and separate divisions within the institute that represent their own specific industry. The heads of these divisions make up the overall management committee that reports to the board. The board is made up of independent representatives of Universities, Colleges, private practitioners, and retired business executives. Academics Academics are a very important and necessary part of ensuring the continued development of education and training in any country. The problem surfaces, when these academics start to govern all aspects of education, training, and delivery. Anyone who has had a university or college education in the most part had little respect or confidence in the teaching ability of most of their lecturers. On the other hand, people who have attended reputable courses delivered by private education or training organizations have encountered far less problems in the teaching ability of the lecturers. In many cases (but not all) academics do not have good teaching skills, and definitely lack the application experience in their field of so-called expertise. Too many academics have also become intellectual snobs and regard anyone without a masters or doctorate unqualified to teach. This is an attitude that needs to be eliminated, as it is nothing short of professional protectionism in the most disgusting form. People with 15 to 40 years experience, will more than often run rings around any academic when it comes to teaching others. Furthermore, past practitioners in any field bring the most valuable commodity to the table, practical experience. Throughout industry, there is still this resistance to employ fresh graduates particularly in the small to medium business sectors. The most common reason is that fresh graduates do not have the application skills or the most up to date information required to compete out in the real economic world. Another issue involving academics is that of internal politics. Sometimes one has to wonder about our education system when people who are professors or doctors of philosophy, supposedly some of the brightest people in our country, end up behaving like children with emotional issues, who are introspective, selfish, self centered and social misfits. All too often an academic who is a gifted teacher, is relegated to undergoing research, whilst the academic who is bankrupt of teaching skills gets to deliver lecture after lecture.   Possible Solutions Academics need to be graded into their best skill sets and employed to utilize their strengths not their weaknesses. It would be wonderful to see more academics involved in practical research untainted by political or external academic interference, to be given a green field to further develop and evolve our higher education system. They are the best people for this, let us use their extraordinary talents productively, rather than force them into their areas of weakness. The control academics have over who is suitable to lecture or not, should be removed from them and handed to a panel of industry experts, so that we can obtain a better balance of development, teaching, and application in our education and training system. Politics exits everywhere, but it is particularly rampant in educational institutions. The only real answer to this is to make all the academic staff answerable to an independent board of business representatives, external academics, and psychologists. Industry Associations Industry associations in the main provide a reasonable service to their members. (They need to or the membership payments will dry up). The one area they need to improve is that of education, personal development programs, and training. Their contribution to proactive education is short of acceptable. They tend to rely on the experts and go with the flow rather than driving change themselves. This apathetic attitude is counterproductive to their members and the community at large. Possible Solutions Industry organizations need to be more proactive in determining the outcomes required by their members. They need to be more education driven, by practical research, sourcing their own skilled providers and paying less attention to bureaucratic driven generic accreditation. Industry associations should have their own experienced industry practitioners to advise them on education needs rather than poorly equipped training managers. Conclusion Whilst this article is critical of most the players involved in the education and training industry, it is a frank, constructive and a fair criticism hopefully to prompt some initiation for change. Without Academics, civilizations cannot grow and evolve into something better. Without good teachers, we cannot pass on knowledge. Without practitioners nothing is done. Without bureaucrats, the world will be a better place. With better-informed and selfless politicians dedicated to serving the people, rather than themselves, the world would approach being perfect.

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