On Interfaces Between Higher Education and Work
While all this makes the question of education-to-work transition urgent and important, they also introduce new challenges. Most people dealing with the question approaches it in one of the two ways - either by being reverential about the tools and structures of Higher Education, as if they are perennial and immutable, or by being completely dismissive about it. In either way, they take a static perspective. Those working in Higher Education see everything as a 'knowledge problem', and imagine solving it through better design of curriculum and assessments. Those working outside Higher Education identify the limitations of the curriculum but insufficiently recognise the challenges posed by the mutation of work and skills. With some generalisation, one could say that the educators are trying to mould yesterday's educational ideas for tomorrow's jobs and those outside are trying to design futuristic educational ideas for yesterday's jobs.
The solution, instead, lies in recognising the changes not just in education, but in society and work. And, one must be quite radical about it. The idea of 'Higher Education' should be questioned - higher as compared to what? One must remember that this is a 'value-laden' expression now - not just advanced education, but by definition distinct from vocational education - and this makes our ideas about Higher Ed quite limited. For example, ideas such as Apprenticeships are never fully accepted in Higher Education, because of its roots in the trades outside the gentlemanly pursuits of educated people. Despite the Great Expansion, universities, and particularly the new ones set up for the purpose of making students employable, scoff at the idea of Education-for-Employment being central to their enterprise, making building effective interfaces subject to continuous sniping from faculty members.
However, the interface between education and work is the most exciting design issues today. While the general scenario is one of doom-and-gloom, as I portray above, there are indeed great experiments underway both within the Higher Ed sector and without. There are a number of employers creating fascinating interfaces - new style apprenticeships, learning communities etc - that can change education. And, some educators more than others are also coming up with new solutions and aggressively implementing them. However, these initiatives are usually seen as 'forward-looking', i.e., not mainstream, and herein lies the problem: The burden of bad ideas, within educational institutions, in regulatory frameworks and in private equity fuelled crusading start-ups, is still heavy enough to rule out a serious and engaged search of interfaces (and, this must be in plural) that may actually work.