A mismatch between the content of university courses and the skills demanded by employers could lead to companies bypassing universities and setting up their own massive open online courses, the minister for universities and science has said.
David Willetts warned universities that if employers were unsatisfied with the skills possessed by university-leavers, Moocs designed and offered by industry could offer an alternative way to assess the capabilities of potential employees.
“Once a significant number of employers say ‘we will take evidence that you have done this course as the basis for giving you an interview’, some of the more formal accrediting processes within education can be bypassed,” he told the Moocs and the Humanities conference, held at Edge Hill University last week.
He said that the IT sector was one area where employers were “frustrated” by a lack of necessary skills in university computer science graduates seeking a first job.
According to 2011-12 data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency, more than 14 per cent of UK-domiciled first-degree computer science graduates were unemployed six months after leaving university – a higher percentage than in any other discipline.
“It doesn’t look as if computer science, as taught by universities, quite aligns with the needs of employers,” Mr Willetts said, adding that IT firms were looking at solving this problem by constructing online computer science courses that could be used to decide who is invited for interview.
“I think we will see…the rise of the de facto accredited Mooc…a Mooc that has some currency in the jobs market,” he concluded.
Speaking to Times Higher Education after the event, Mr Willetts said that although he believed in “the value of classic academic accreditation”, if university courses get “detached from current employer needs”, companies would seek an alternative assessment route.
“There are academic courses which don’t have an immediate employability requirement,” he continued, “but when there are broadly vocational courses, they have got to meet today’s needs. Moocs could bypass [university computer science courses] if they don’t deliver what employers are looking for.”
Mr Willetts also used his speech to address what he called a “backlash” against Moocs, with a rising number of sceptics raising “legitimate concerns” about the free courses.
“There is a pent-up demand, a frustrated wait for the point at which education is finally changed significantly by technological changes,” he said, adding that as of yet, such developments had failed to shift pedagogy away from the “medieval” lecture model.
“We are getting to the tipping point where the gradual accumulation of new technologies does change the way education is done,” he continued, citing “haptic” technology – whereby users can employ devices to experience tactile feedback to allow processes to be simulated more accurately – as one area that could have implications for the way courses such as dentistry are taught.
“Put Moocs alongside haptic and interactive technologies, and you get something very exciting,” he said. “If you look at Moocs on their own, you don’t get the full significance of what is happening…[to] significantly change education.”