Graduates should be offered “lifetime membership” of their alma mater so that they can reskill to keep up with the changing demands of the workplace, according to the president of one of Latin America’s top universities.
Addressing more than 3,000 academics and university leaders at the fourth International Congress on Education Innovation in Mexico, Salvador Alva, president of Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education, said that universities had a responsibility to prepare students not only for their first job but also to equip them with skills that will benefit them for life in an era of rapid technological change.
“In an era of continuous learning, traditional degrees tend to lose their value,” he said. “The challenges we face today cannot be solved by traditional methods.”
Graduates should therefore be able to return to their alma mater during their lives to learn new skills and gain contacts to help with job changes, he argued.
Speaking to Times Higher Education, Professor Alva said: “I think universities are falling behind in many respects. There are some that focus too much on pushing graduates into well-paid jobs, because they believe that it will improve their reputation and the students will in turn repay them in donations.
“The real question is, is that the right model for students? Universities have a responsibility to help them flourish as humans, too.”
Professor Alva said that Tec Monterrey had acknowledged that its traditional models of teaching were “very primitive because we were not expecting the level of change that is happening in our society”. “We have been behind what the world needs for many years,” he said.
Tec Monterrey has recently undergone radical changes to its course curricula, whereby students sit fewer traditional exams and take part in compulsory group projects that benefit the local community and result in cash prizes for top performers.
“Universities are expanding but access to education is declining,” he said of the current challenges in higher education in Mexico. “The aim here is to become more socially aware and prepare people of all ages for the future at the same time. I want to give my students this lifetime guarantee, this membership so that even as demand changes, they can succeed.”
Speaking in a panel debate at the conference, Claudio Muñoz, chief executive of communications giant Telefónica Chile, said that businesses needed to build stronger relationships with higher education institutions, both regionally and globally.
“Megatrends” such as digitisation, urbanisation and the ageing population were changing the skills required of those leaving education, he said, adding: “Companies have to ask themselves: are we willing to come out of this model of talent consumption and go into one that participates in the production of talent?”
Professor Alva and Mr Muñoz were speaking in conference sessions that were the Latin American edition of the Reinventing Higher Education summit, held annually in Madrid by IE University.
Why 21st-century universities need the ‘feminine’ touch
Universities need to recruit more women to senior leadership positions if they are to future-proof themselves against changing societal demands, an academic has argued.
Max Oliva, founder of the TEAMLABS entrepreneurship platform and deputy director of the Social Innovation Institute at Madrid’s IE University, told the fourth International Congress on Education Innovation that higher education institutions, like businesses, should home in on the “soft skills” that are traditionally associated with more feminine characteristics if they are to remain relevant in the coming decades.
“If I think of the competence of the 21st century it is [down to] female leadership, in the most authentic interpretation of what that means,” he said. “[We should] think about the collaborative [and] the empathy part but, particularly knowing that we don’t have the answers today, [we need to explore] how we rely on our intuition to discover them [and] to reinvent ourselves and say: ‘I don’t know how to do this, but I dare to discover it and I dare to discover it with third parties’. That…is fundamental to success.”
With the rise of artificial intelligence and changing workforce demands, industry representatives taking part in the same panel stressed that universities must not neglect the importance of negotiating and diplomacy as skills that “cannot be replaced by robotics”.
Empathy was a key aspect to that skill set, said Professor Oliva, but one that leaders were all too often guilty of forgetting.
Speaking to Times Higher Education, he said: “[Society is in far more need of] the competencies that come more naturally to women. We have seen how having only men in a position of power limits the depth of decision-making.”
“We definitely need some more female university leaders, but it’s also about developing depth of emotion in the students that we are nurturing to become future leaders.”