CourseraSkills for jobs: how to establish future pathways for students

Skills for jobs: how to establish future pathways for students


Discussion has rolled on for years about the skills gap between university and the workplace. But are institutions focusing on the right qualities?

Webinar held in December 2021. 

Even before the pandemic, universities struggled to deliver the skills employers need in a fast-changing labour market. This was summed up by Anastasia Minina, vice-rector for international affairs at St Petersburg Electrotechnical University, at a webinar discussion on student pathways, held by Times Higher Education in partnership with Coursera.

“We have to think about the problem from a graduate’s perspective – the skills necessary not just for tomorrow but for three or five years’ time,” Minina said. 

Data gathered by Coursera across its user base of more than 92 million students can provide insights into what the skills gaps are and how to fill them, explained Dike Onianwa, director of partnerships at Coursera for Campus. “When we pull together user data, we get a clear insight into what industry needs. Businesses increasingly want not just a degree but an industry-related skill such as blockchain,” he said.

Using online courses and offering micro-credentials alongside a degree course can help institutions meet that need. “We’re not paving over the road, we’re filling in the potholes,” Onianwa added.

Flexibility in curricula will help universities to be more agile, argued Mark Andrews, pedagogical evangelist at Adobe. “We need to build some more abstraction in curriculum design so if new skills come in we don’t need to redesign the whole degree,” he said.

At the University of Ostrava in the Czech Republic, there is direct input from industry on each degree programme and the institution is working on building internships across disciplines. “Not just traditional ones related to your area of practice, but for all students. Interdisciplinarity is a big challenge, but also a way to solve the skills gaps our graduates might have,” said Renata Tomaskova, vice-rector for international relations at the university. 

At the Deggendorf University of Technology, staff need to have worked in industry for at least three years in order to become a professor, and internships are mandatory for students. “This means we have a mindset of how things work in the real world, helping clients solve their challenges, contributing real-world insights in class,” explained Patrick Glauner, full professor of artificial intelligence at the institution.

Eighty per cent of AI implementations fail, Glauner said, so students need to learn broader skills such as innovation management and budgeting. Working through real case studies means students learn how to solve business challenges and how to add value, rather than simply building prototypes.  

Doug Cole, deputy director of employability at Nottingham Trent University, said the narrative around skills was often too focused on technical capabilities or whether someone got a certain job. “The value of a degree is so much more in terms of your identity – who you are, who you want to become,” Cole said. Working or studying abroad builds students’ resilience, which helps them succeed in the workplace, he added.

Husein Baghirov, rector at Western Caspian University, agreed. “Universities should not just be concerned by employability. Soft skills develop during the vocational process. We should encourage people to spend time in workplaces from early years,” he said.

Cole argued that building up the “whole person” was closer to many academics’ idea of the real purpose of education. “If we focus on what workplaces value, this tension is unnecessary. Having a job is just one part of being a good person,” he concluded.  

The panel:

  • Mark Andrews, pedagogical evangelist, Adobe
  • Husein Baghirov, rector, Western Caspian University
  • Phil Baty, chief knowledge officer, Times Higher Education (chair)
  • Doug Cole, deputy director of employability, Nottingham Trent University 
  • Patrick Glauner, full professor of artificial intelligence, Deggendorf Institute of Technology
  • Anastasia Minina, vice-rector for international affairs, Saint Petersburg Electrotechnical University (LETI) 
  • Dike Onianwa, director of partnerships (DACH), Coursera for Campus
  • Renata Tomaskova, vice-rector for international relations, University of Ostrava

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

Find out more about Coursera for Campus.

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