In today’s rapidly changing environment and its evolving expectations, educators in higher education need to carefully design the course curriculum to achieve the quality and rigour of subject-related training.
Today’s education system strives to mould students to become future practitioners, leaders and managers in their respective fields, and make them realise their role as change catalysts in building a productive and sustainable world.
Educators should perform a periodic review of the syllabus and curriculum to incorporate the continuously changing and complex agendas that practitioners face in the industry and globally.
This can be performed by:
• Comprehending and reflecting on critiques in providing education;
• Engaging key practitioners in industry to brainstorm the gaps in the respective professional areas;
• Offering diversity and combination of choices in interdisciplinary fields; and
• Incorporating real-life cases which pinpoint the failures of practitioners in the respective professional fields — analysing the trend and the gaps identified from the behavioural and leadership viewpoints.
With the Government’s recent emphasis on vocational and “hands-on” practical skills training, it is crucial to ensure that there is a well-blended curriculum that trains participants to be job-ready, that is meeting employers’ expectations. To achieve this, three key aspects have to be addressed:
Place a high emphasis on the skills and knowledge expected by industries and the job market.
Understand their needs and the relevance of the training content. To ensure the training provided in universities, polytechnics, institutes of technical education (ITEs) and any other institutions are relevant and current, the bridge between what is expected by potential employers and what is actually being taught in the higher education institutions has to be closely mapped.
Here are two examples of how this was achieved:
• As part of a periodic review for a postgraduate offshore programme for an overseas university, its course assessment was re-aligned to be more practical, focusing on the skills and abilities required.
This was achieved by getting the relevant subject matter practitioners involved and tying in tightly the needs and relevant skills that employers were concerned with.
In this course programme, negotiation is a core module taken by Masters in Business Administration (MBA) students.
The course assessment requires participants to be involved in the negotiation situation with directors/managers (from varying industries) of firms in a “real-time” setting. To make this as real as possible, the examinable themes are related to actual scenarios from real-life negotiations.
The entire 20 to 30-minute negotiation is recorded for feedback and requires inputs by a panel of judges, including industry practitioners and external assessors who are academics and international experts in the field.
• Educators must be actively involved in consulting and applied research in areas where organisations have issues or there are gaps that require expert advice to address.
They must ensure that the evolving learning design, embedded with technology, is able to transfer the relevant skills and knowledge.
For example, in the Principles of Management module in Nanyang Business School at the Nanyang Technological University, there is a high emphasis on developing the skills and competencies that future leaders and managers need upon graduation in their first roles as first-line managers.
There is a high emphasis on critical thinking, deep learning and applied learning through “real-life” case studies and assignments. Students have to understand both the strategies and behavioural aspects of identified organisations and recommend improvised or even novel solutions.
Offer a diversity of choices in interdisciplinary fields.
An essential requirement is to offer and train students in a manner in which they are able to address the needs and expectations of their employers.
As to what “skills and knowledge” are needed in the face of constant change, it is crucial to review the scope of the modules offered and, thereafter, provide subject combinations that will meet the expectations of employers.
The introduction of combined specialisation at universities is a case in point. For example, a student pursuing an engineering degree can specialise in business or a business student could choose to major in entrepreneurship or in law, or a combination of accounting and law.
These specialisations allow students to equip and enrich themselves with the wider skills and knowledge that enables them to be more job-ready and confident in their respective roles in the future, also giving them the opportunity to diversify their career pathways respectively.
Learning from real-life failures and challenges.
Educators need to continuously bridge the gap between theory and what is really happening in the industry. For example, guest speakers from different industries can be invited to share not only their positive experiences, but the limitations and challenges they face as well.
How they overcame these “real-life” problems with specific skill-sets can also be a topic for discussion.
This is an important part of both pre-university level (that is, polytechnics, ITEs) and university-level education. The rationale behind this is for students to relate the theoretical framework to reality and to be aware of the practical constraints and realities in the real business world.
Meeting future needs
Educators must continuously review the competency skills expected by employers from various industries in getting graduates job-ready and meeting the needs of future job requirements.
Article by Dr Kumaran Rajaram, a faculty with Nanyang Business School, Nanyang Technological University. He headed a Regional Business Consultancy and was the Director of Academic Affairs for a higher education institution where he championed evolving issues on internationalisation and change strategies.