Industry need sparks a rise in teaching aid from firms

But some fear large gifts from US companies may dictate universities’ curricula

March 13, 2014

Source: Reuters

Money men: JPMorgan Chase would help to design a programme it is funding

When it is time for students at the University of Delaware’s Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics to go to their internships at JPMorgan Chase, they don’t leave the campus. They simply head to the JPMorgan Chase Innovation Center, a facility to which the financial services firm contributed $5 million (£3 million) and where some of its employees are on hand to work with students and deliver guest lectures.

This partnership is an example of the exponential growth in connections between US corporations and the teaching sides of universities.

JPMorgan Chase, which also has a centre at Syracuse University where 75 student interns work, last year offered a further $17 million to Delaware to start a doctoral programme in the new field of financial services analytics – which, controversially, it would help to design and assess.

Meanwhile, telecommunications giant AT&T has given $2 million to support a new online master’s degree in computer science at the Georgia Institute of Technology that is now in its second semester. And eCornell, a subsidiary of Cornell University, creates custom online professional and executive development courses for IBM, Boeing and other companies.

“It’s more than a trend. We’ve got a fundamental shift happening,” said Paul Jones, president of the Corporate and University Relations Group, a consultancy firm focused on “building partnerships of the future” between business and higher education.

These kinds of links are not unusual in research; private companies in the US give $3.2 billion a year to university research projects. But corporate subsidies for teaching are relatively new, and clearly have the potential to be contentious.

The development is being driven by two things: companies’ growing frustration with the lack of preparedness of graduates they hire, and universities’ desire for new sources of revenue and improved graduate employability rates.

“All of this is a huge opportunity for schools that want to grasp it,” said Shaul Kuper, president of Destiny Solutions, which develops software that helps companies work with universities. “And the truth is, corporations are willing to pay. They’re willing to pay for the right educations.”

Ready to work?

An Inside Higher Ed survey conducted by Gallup and published in January found that 96 per cent of senior university administrators believed they were “somewhat” or “very” effective in preparing their students for the world of work. But in another Gallup poll on higher education issues published last month, only 11 per cent of business leaders “strongly agreed” that graduates had the skills and competencies their businesses needed.

“We think we’re doing a good job, but industries are saying: ‘You’re not producing the people we need,’” said Delaware president Patrick Harker. “They see that, yes, they have specific problems, but there’s a broader issue of the education not matching where they think the careers are going to be in the future.”

Universities do a better job of this when they have a corporate presence in the classroom, said Dan Sommer, president of global education at Zeta Interactive, a “big data-driven” marketing company whose higher education clients include for-profits such as Kaplan University and the University of Phoenix.

When he took a master’s degree in integrated marketing at New York University, Mr Sommer said, his best lecturers were part-time adjunct faculty who still worked in the field.

“They were bringing real-world examples into the classroom, and that was a major differentiator for me,” he said.

Wary of strings attached

However, some full-time academics are wary of this broader new development.

Sheldon Pollack, a professor of law and political science at Delaware, is among the academics to have publicly stated his concerns about his institution’s proposed JPMorgan Chase-funded doctoral programme.

Because universities are increasingly looking for new sources of money, he said, “this [deal] is irresistible”.

But the question is, “what are you giving them in exchange for the money? It’s not like the classic case where the little old lady whose husband was a graduate leaves a few million dollars in her will.”

Professor Pollack added: “This puts the university in the position of being somewhat of a training facility for the corporation, as opposed to an academic institution that educates students and makes them better people who are attractive to all types of businesses when they graduate.”

But, countered Mr Sommer, the traditional four-year higher education is not for everyone: “There are students that are simply going to be looking for the training that they need to get a job.”

And according to Delaware president Harker, “The really good faculty understand they want to be on the leading edge of these fields. They welcome these changes.”

Either way, corporate involvement with the academy is here to stay, said Rafael Bras, provost of Georgia Tech.

“I don’t see anything wrong with it. If it’s done properly, the private sector can express their needs and those of us in education can express what we think students need. It can be a healthy interaction,” he said.

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