CourseraHow universities can prepare graduates for the future of work

How universities can prepare graduates for the future of work

With a growing number of employers turning to skills-first hiring, universities must ensure their graduates meet the expectations of industry

Better engagement with industry, embedding in-demand skills in curricula and focusing on developing human skills can help universities improve graduate employability outcomes.

A discussion at the THE Emerging Economies Summit, held in partnership with Coursera for Campus, asked a panel of university leaders, employers and providers of non-traditional education and skills training what employability will mean in the digital age.

Chair Tim Sowula, head of content and engagement at THE, said graduates would be entering an increasingly volatile job market. He asked the panel what “practical” and “critical thinking” skills look like in a post-Covid era that is increasingly focused on digitalisation.

Zaher Srour, director of partnerships for the Middle East at Coursera, said that the higher education industry had “drastically changed” during the pandemic. He said Coursera had identified four key trends using data collected from the 87 million learners and 4,000 universities it works with.

As well as the growth of blended learning, he said there was a greater focus on affordability, employability and supporting faculty to develop the skills to deliver blended teaching.

“Universities realise students are now facing more challenges to join the job market,” Srour said. He added that many employers were finding graduates ill-prepared to join the workforce and were increasingly adopting a “skills-first hiring” approach.

“Of course, the degree from the university is still important, but it’s not enough anymore,” Srour said.

Chandrika Wijeyaratne, vice-chancellor of the University of Colombo, said that the university engaged with industry and government with a view to addressing skills gaps in the economy, for example in agriculture, tourism and healthcare.

“Our university and most of the other state universities would be very happy to join with industry and the corporate sector with a view to regaining our economy,” Wijeyaratne said. “We are exploring the possibility of having more graduate nurses, for example, to match the needs of the quickly ageing population, not only in Sri Lanka but the wider region.”

Arshad Ahmad, vice-chancellor at Lahore University of Management Sciences, said universities should focus on equipping students with multidisciplinary, human skills. He said universities should also seek to maintain relationships with graduates throughout their careers.

“[Learning is] a journey that will continue for life. So, a programme should be accordingly set up so when a student enters your university, you've got them for the rest of their lives,” he said. “That is a way of thinking that can allow them to go in and out, back and forth into industry with employers – to come back to their institutions or sister institutions to reskill and get the credentialing that they require, but never leave the universe of higher education.”

Walid Al Zaher, chief research officer at Group42 Healthcare, said the company had relied on recent graduates for key projects, including its 4Humanity clinical trials, the world’s first Phase III trials of an inactivated Covid-19 vaccine.

“The company is young and it moves with the speed and agility that the younger generation are suited to,” Al Zaher said.

Group42 looked for graduates who were both “book smart and street smart”. “You need both. You need people with the experience, who have been there and done that, maybe to train the newer generation…but they do have the talent to be great in their own way,” Al Zaher said.

The panel:

  • Arshad Ahmad, vice-chancellor, Lahore University of Management Sciences
  • Walid Al Zaher, chief research officer, Group42 Healthcare
  • Tim Sowula, head of content and engagement, THE (chair)
  • Zaher Srour, director of partnerships (Middle East), Coursera
  • Chandrika Wijeyaratne, vice-chancellor, University of Colombo

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

Find out more about Coursera for Campus.

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