CourseraUniversities should focus on skills to drive graduate employability

Universities should focus on skills to drive graduate employability

Students need a mixture of hard and soft skills to adapt to the future of work

In five years, the current cohort of students will be taking on jobs that do not currently exist. Higher education institutions need to prepare their students for this uncertain future, said the panellists of a recent Times Higher Education summit.

“At a time like this, universities should be thinking from a skills-first perspective, in addition to what they are already doing, to help ensure that young people are prepared for employment in the future,” said Samar Farah, a skills transformation consultant at online education platform Coursera. 

The webinar, titled “Skills transformation in the Middle East: Maximising employability and modernising economies”, was held in partnership with Coursera at the THE MENA Universities Summit. According to data from Coursera’s partner companies and its 77 million learners, the most in-demand skills relate to data, technology and business, Farah said.

In many Arabic countries, such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the government has laid out a strategic vision that relies heavily on data, technology and business expertise.

Universities are ensuring that their curricula are designed to teach these skills, said Mahmoud Muati, head of planning and strategy at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia.

Aside from “hard” technical skills, jobs will also require “soft skills” such as leadership, problem-solving and critical thinking, Muati said. Hard and soft skills “need to be mixed in a way that people are ready for the future and actually prepares the students to have future jobs”. Companies are also increasingly looking for graduates with soft skills, the panellists said.

Thomas Glas-Hochstettler, provost of Abu Dhabi University in the United Arab Emirates, said he prefers the term “deep knowledge skills”, which includes the ability to take solutions from one arena and apply them elsewhere. Universities are able to teach these skills, and that is why higher education institutions remain relevant, he said.

Abu Dhabi University is actively engaging with industry and its alumni to identify possible gaps in graduates’ skill sets, Glas-Hochstettler explained.

Mongi Besbes, vice-president of the University of Carthage in Tunisia, said his institution has forged strong links with industry to allow students to get real-world experience and to understand what employers expect of them. “We are focusing on some indicators [of] how technology is shaping companies” and how universities can offer companies what they need, Besbes said.

In this arena, Farah believes Coursera plays an important role because many universities lack strong industry ties. “Our platform has constant engagement with industry” and is able to offer courses responding to its needs very quickly, she said.

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

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