CourseraUniversities must prepare their students for the workplace, not just graduation

Universities must prepare their students for the workplace, not just graduation


Online learning platforms can augment existing teaching so that students are ready for the labour market

Forum held in October 2021

Universities need to align their curricula with the job market’s requirements and help graduates plug the gaps in their knowledge, according to speakers at the Coursera for Campus: MENA executive forum.

Over the course of the forum, experts from academia and industry exchanged knowledge and best practice about how institutions can prepare graduates for the current workplace – and how it will change in the future.

Engaging with national programmes: what further measures are needed to optimise teaching and learning?

The world of work is evolving, and governments need to include these changes in their national policies to ensure economic development and prosperity, according to the panellists of the opening session of Coursera’s MENA executive forum.

There is already significant disruption in the job market, brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic; automation and the digital revolution are transforming it further, said Anthony Tattersall, vice-president of enterprise for Europe, the Middle East and Africa at Coursera. 

To avoid having citizens with obsolete skills struggling to find employment, governments need to invest in skills development. “Where these national programmes are the most effective is where they partner with educational institutions whose core mission is to build skills, partner with businesses who need to deploy those skills in productive working environments, and work with third-party organisations to guide these programmes and make them effective,” Tattersall said.

Already, countries in the Arab world are grappling with a disconnect between the skills graduates possess and those required by the workplace, said Mongi Besbes, vice-chancellor at the University of Carthage in Tunisia. “The growing number of educated unemployed [people] suggests weak links between education, the training system and the labour market,” Besbes said. “Entrepreneurs in Algeria, Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan, Lebanon and Morocco regularly see the lack of appropriate skills in the workforce as a major obstacle to business development, preventing job creation.”

Coursera, with its many business customers, can help academic institutions bridge the skills gap in their region, Tattersall said. “In many cases, [companies] don’t have the time or the capacity to build those skill sets internally because in some cases it can be 100 to 200 days’ worth of educational time needed to address the gap,” he said.

Aawatif Hayar, president of Hassan II University of Casablanca in Morocco, said that her country undertook a review of its education system and found a mismatch between the curricula and the skills employers wanted. Soft skills, such as languages, and entrepreneurship were particularly important, she said.

Hayar’s institution has more than 125,000 students, so it is important that any intervention to improve employability is scalable. “We use the platforms of Coursera and online platforms to accommodate the large number of students and we have realised that these skills are very important to create an economic impact,” Hayar said. 

Watch the opening session of Coursera's executive forum on demand above or on the THE Connect YouTube channel.

Find out more about the session.



Attracting and retaining top talent: skilling staff to create a modern, engaged workforce

Academic staff require continuous professional development if they are to train employment-ready graduates, according to the attendees of a session entitled “Attracting and retaining top talent: skilling staff to create a modern, engaged workforce”.

The pandemic has accelerated the global push to online interactions in the workplace and in academia, said Zaher Srour, director of partnerships for the Middle East at Coursera. “The digital transformation requires universities to upskill and reskill their faculty to ensure that they can support the curriculum that provides student retention and economic growth for the region.”

But upskilling and reskilling extends beyond digital skills. “Instructors and professors have often been at an institution for a long period of time,” said one of the attendees, Rawan Yasmin, head of open learning and scholarships at the Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education . “They are not always in touch with the skills that are needed in industry…so they’re teaching the theoretical part and undoubtedly doing their best, but they’re not always up to date on the most recent skills needed in the labour market.” 

A number of attendees agreed that universities needed to foster closer relationships with industry to ensure curricula are up to date and that their faculty are aware of the skills their students need upon graduating.

Ajay Shukla, managing director at EdOrbis,  suggested that each institution should have an industry advisory committee to advise on curriculum development. “The instructors or professors can actually work within the constraints of a slow-moving curriculum change by embedding skills within the students, which are marketplace ready,” he said. 

Another attendee said that the role of faculty had changed. “I no longer see the faculty member of today as a teacher. I see the faculty member as a facilitator. We are not in the driving seat anymore; we are in the passenger seat. We leave industry, the student and other stakeholders in the driving seat to drive their career.” 

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

Find out more about the session.


Closing the skills gap in the MENA region: the path to employable graduates with digital learning

Online education platforms, such as Coursera, can help students plug the gaps in their knowledge and become more employable, according to the panellists of the closing session of the Coursera for Campus: MENA executive forum.

“Universities cannot be everything, cannot be the best at everything,” said Nayef Abu-Ageel, director of the online learning centre at Al Hussein Technical University in Jordan. Coursera had been a “very good platform to introduce our students to [course content] from everywhere in the world, from very well-respected universities and corporations”, he said. 

Arab countries have been struggling with a mismatch between the education system and the labour market, the panellists agreed. Graduate employability was a major problem for the region, said Samar Farah, skills transformation consultant at Coursera. Additionally, young people have been disproportionately affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, with casual and entry-level jobs, often populated by youth, facing cuts.

“What hinders students’ employability are the skills we do not develop at school,” said Mehdi El Mouden, head of digital resources and professor of English at École Centrale Casablanca. From soft skills, such as language proficiency, to teamwork and time management, universities need to help students acquire the skills that the post-Covid-19 digital age requires.

However, the reality of the past two years is that universities have had their “hands full” trying to cope with implementing online or blended learning and they have struggled to keep up with industry, said Coursera’s Farah. “That’s where online learning and partnerships with the likes of Coursera or other such providers can be really helpful,” she said.

The company’s guided projects, for example, allow students to learn new skills and gain experience. “There are ways to incorporate real-world challenges or scenarios in day-to-day teaching,” Farah said. Additionally, such projects give students an idea of what work in the real world looks like.

For El Mouden, online education platforms also allow learners and graduates to be in charge of their own professional development. Students’ knowledge rapidly becomes outdated as the world of work evolves, making it vital that people upskill and reskill. “Coursera is very important for lifelong learning,” he said, pointing out that students can identify the skills they need for the marketplace and acquire them.

Watch the closing session of Coursera’s executive forum on demand above or on the THE Connect YouTube channel.

Find out more about the session. 


Find out more about Coursera for Campus.

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