CourseraEngaging industry and embracing lifelong learning to close the skills gap

Engaging industry and embracing lifelong learning to close the skills gap

Digital learning can boost graduate employability and offer skills education for life for non-traditional learners, experts say

Universities must be agile enough to cater to lifelong learners and ensure that blended learning equips students with job-ready skills, a roundtable has heard.

At the Times Higher Education event, held in partnership with Coursera for Campus, an expert panel from academia and industry across Europe discussed how skills education could be scaled with high-quality digital learning.

Chair Alistair Lawrence, special projects editor at THE, asked how universities could address the gap between graduate skills and industry expectations.

Michael Hannon, vice-president for academic affairs and registrar at Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology in Ireland (GMIT), said his institution engaged with industry to ensure graduates were employable.

After the Covid-19 pandemic prompted the mass transition to online delivery, GMIT used courses from Coursera to supplement and complement existing programmes.

“When we design our programmes, we engage industry partners in the creation of the curriculum to ensure the material is relevant. So when the student graduates, they are ready to hit the ground running,” he said.

Bálint Bachmann, rector at Budapest Metropolitan University in Hungary, agreed that strong industry partnerships were important to understand which skills were required in graduates.

“We, of course, want to learn their perspective of the skills and competencies the next generation of professionals will need,” he said. “We are introducing more and more project-based study programmes that the students work on throughout the semester at companies or other entities. I think this is the best way to learn, through the project, what they are interested in and what they should learn and know as they enter the labour market.”

Wolfgang Pree, professor of computer science at the University of Salzburg in Austria, said one of the difficulties of digital teaching – and teaching technical subjects in general – was “the skill of abstraction”.

He said his university had managed this by combining lectures with smaller courses where groups of three to five could focus on a specific area. He also stressed the need to equip students with skills that would remain relevant.

“Employers usually wish for something that is not necessarily outdated but not forward-thinking. We have to balance what is required now and what will be required five or 10 years down the road,” Pree said.

The panellists agreed that higher education institutions would have to show “agility” and increasingly offer courses for upskilling and lifelong learning.

Andy Poole, director of partnerships at Coursera for Campus, said governments were looking to boost skills in their populations.

“Increasingly, when we look at government development plans, there’s a sense that there’s this constant upskilling that needs to take place in society and in the economy,” Poole said. “How are traditional universities, which have always been focused on the 18-to-22 age group, going to have the capacity and be able to adapt for that audience?”

Nieves Segovia, president of SEK Education Group, said universities would have to “repurpose ourselves to still be relevant”. She advocated a flexible learning ecosystem, where people could seamlessly study new skills at different stages of their life.

“We’ll be looking for our own personalised ways to reach that knowledge, whether it is in a traditional classroom setting, digital or somewhere else,” Segovia said. “We know there’s different ways of learning and we need to do this across the whole of our lives.”

The panel:

  • Bálint Bachmann, rector, Budapest Metropolitan University
  • Michael Hannon, vice-president for academic affairs and registrar, Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology
  • Alistair Lawrencespecial projects editor, Times Higher Education (chair)
  • Andy Poole, director of partnerships, Coursera for Campus
  • Wolfgang Pree, professor of computer science, University of Salzburg
  • Nieves Segovia, president, SEK Education Group

Watch the roundtable on demand above or on the THE Connect YouTube channel.

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