I will be exposing my vision on the development of research and projects in the field of Entrepreneurship as an academic field and my narrative will consist of three parts, the current pains, the diagnostic and the recommendation for a course of action. Universities linger in the kind of state where problems do not have “a solution” and can only be subject to amelioration at a faster or slower pace, depending on a number of circumstances. ‘Problems’ in this unsolvable state are also called ‘problem-situations’.
The current pains
There is always this gap between what is taught in the University and what the employers need their new hires to know in practice.
I enjoy working as a consultant because I am frequently exposed to the problem-situations my clients face and find them quite challenging and as a result highly motivating. Unfortunately, the decision to tackle such problem-situations ‘heads on’ is in itself a part of ‘the problem’ in the situation.
Let me give you an example in the Oil & Gas industry. Every year a vast number of young engineers are hired by leading companies in this field and I wonder, how many of such University graduates are ready to perform in their new jobs without an extensive period of training in their new company? In most circumstances, absolutely none.
This is a huge waste of our society most precious resources and in many respects a lack of coordination between two parties that should be working cooperatively with the same objective in mind – an effective employment of the youth.
This is also the case in most of the others hi-tech and knowledge-intensive professions, not just in Oil&Gas. Medical students once graduated, still need several years of practice in hospitals to become trustworthy specialized professionals. Same for Lawyers, and a range of many other University degrees. There is always this gap between what is taught in the University and what the employers need their new hires to know in practice.
What the students should be asking Universities in the first place, would be a ‘certified job’ not just ‘certified knowledge’.
With all due respect, most Universities have the wrong business model in mind. They think about their customers as the ‘students’ (or their families), to whom they are providing a certain level of knowledge that they also certify.
Students and their families then think about the university diploma as the means to achieve their real objective which is to find a job. This is an incredible fallacy because what the students should be asking Universities in the first place, would be a ‘certified job’ not just ‘certified knowledge’.
In other words, the entity that should be certifying the University’s diplomas should be the industry sector (or their representatives) themselves. A radical change in business model is required for the Universities of the Future to respond to this challenge. Instead of thinking about the students as customers, they must start to think of the ‘job-creating organizations’ as their customers and establish a mission ‘to have all their students successfully employed’ not just ‘well educate’ them.
The universities of the future can be seen as the added-value knowledge partner of any job-creating organization (private or public).
At the start of this article, I have defined a problem-situation as an unsolvable state with no unique and single solution. Trying to fix University problems with a simple change in business model would be imprudent and my diagnostic above should be seen as a mere contribution to reflection. Let’s imagine that Universities start to consider the ‘job creators’ as their customers, what would be the consequences?
Firstly, to teach their students to become themselves ‘job creators’ or entrepreneurs is probably a clever approach. The new digital revolution offers so many opportunities that the kind of knowledge that needs to be conveyed for someone to become a successful entrepreneur is causing interesting challenges to the University curricula designers. To factor in an added level of complexity, young entrepreneurs are unlikely to survive as a solo, their chances will increase if they successfully learn how to work cooperatively. As a result cooperative learning should be mainstream and group facilitation skills must be a critical part of any University curricula and the IAF (International Association of Facilitation) should be a useful source to address such requirements.
Secondly, Universities must train and convert part of their faculty members to be able to engage with large job-creating organizations and help them to re-think their present and future workforce and to find opportunities for custom-specific curricula development.
Examples from the present
The best example of these self-sustained universities of the future can be found in the present in the armed forces. Every student soldier that is enrolled is not trained to receive a degree. They are trained to exactly perform a specific job and all are placed on duty.
The military, especially in large countries, is one of the largest employers in the world, they can afford to have their own private education system to custom-design their curricula and to enroll and train their own students and convert them in well-employed professionals. The large-scale of the Military is not the case in most organizations, even the largest ones, but their self-sustained and highly focused educational system could be an advantage in most of the job-creating organizations.
A second example from the military is that the education process of a soldier is not only cognitive, they are also taught on new skills and especially on a level of attitude that is critical for the performance of their military duties.
I know of very few Business Schools that take this kind of experiential learning as part of their mission, with the possible exception of the EBS Experiential Business School in Spain. This kind of ‘experiential learning’ adapted to develop the most valuable skills must also be mainstream in the University of Future.
To conclude, the Universities of the Future can be seen as the added value ‘knowledge partner’ of any job-creating organization (private or public). They must train or hire new faculty members that know how to engage with the entrepreneurial community and the civil services to understand both their knowledge and research needs. These requirements are then fed back into the University knowledge-creation infrastructure to produce a custom-build service with both the students and their employing organizations in mind. On the research front, these services will be delivering their most needed inventions and advancing science. On the education front, these services will be preparing students on both the knowledge and skills set required for them to be successfully employed or self-employed. Teaching students to become successful entrepreneurs is probably the greatest service Universities of the Future could be delivering to the society.