Aligning education with the needs of business

Aligning education with the needs of businessBy  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

In the education sector, there is a growing awareness of the shortcomings of traditional degree programs, and the need for more technical and vocational training which will produce graduates who have the skills needed in specific industries. In the GCC in particular, with governments looking to increase employment of nationals, there is a growing focus on developing vocational and technical training that will meet the needs of national industries at the same time as providing rewarding and productive career opportunities for citizens.

As new vocational training initiatives are launched, education authorities will need to forge closer links with business to understand its requirements and also develop information systems to track students, according to Tony Roach, director of Strategic Accounts for education software specialist Ellucian.

“All across the world, and certainly this region is catching up in a big way, industry is demanding expertise, and they are demanding skills. In the diploma space, there is almost an oversupply,” Roach said. “In this country [UAE] last year, 68% of the higher education-eligible students went into diploma-based education. The thing about it is is to look downstream and see to what extent a liberal arts degree is going to get you a job nowadays? The plain fact of the matter is, commercial globalisation, the sheer speed of technological advances is demanding that the workforce have some mobility, and have some very specific skills in order to keep growth advancing forward.”

The approach to vocational and technical training has varied between countries in the Middle East. The American University of Cairo has a long established continuing education program, which caters to an impressive 40,000 learners each year, Roach said, and that approach has been mirrored all over the country.

The government of Saudi Arabia is investing 20bn riyals ($5.3bn), between now and 2020, specifically on the technical and vocational education sector. Saudi’s TVTC (Technical and Vocational Training Corporation) is expected as part of this upgrade, to grow their student base from 110,000 to 220,000, and this number does not include 20 colleges of excellence which were also created last year.

In the UAE, vocational training has been somewhat more supply-orientated, Roach commented, rather than catering directly to the needs of industry, however, that is shifting with a number of government bodies taking a new lead on vocational training. The Abu Dhabi Centre for Technical and Vocational Education and Training (ACTVET) is geared to bring all the vocational training under one authority, while the National Qualifications Authority (NQA) is specifically meant to coordinate, to operationalise, and quality-ensure the provision of vocational and technical education in the country.

“The end result is to turn this provision into a bit more of a demand-centric provision, one of the key roles that that authority will oversee is the introduction of industry back into the planning process,” he said. “The demographics are demanding it, industry is demanding it and governments are responding to it.”

There is very strong demand for skilled personnel coming from most of the major verticals in the region, such as hospitality, aviation, and healthcare, but organisations that aim to provide this training will need information systems that go beyond traditional academic management solutions, in order to manage and co-ordinate their courses.

Ellucian is already serving many of the leading universities in the region, most notably through Banner, its student information system, and it is building on that experience with the vocational and technical training sector.

Roach commented: “We are already deeply embedded in workforce development and continual education training, we have a master agreement with ACTVET, so we manage all of the information related to that particular provision; and we are in the process of moving records into one consolidated, multi-entity, private cloud-based delivery, just for ACTVET. They also use our data warehouse, they have a very rich set of higher education-specific education, aggregated data there.”

Because of the need to meet specific requirements of vertical sectors, vocational training providers need to be able to collaborate with business, to define course requirements, align with teaching personnel and also to track the effectiveness of the training in terms of creating graduates with the right skills.

Ellucian has developed a Software-as-a-Service offering, Elevate, to serve this sector. Elevate includes multiple features to quickly develop and launch courses, market them to students and to corporate clients, and it includes analytics to give a detailed information on course performance, programme metrics and student trends.

“The reporting can tell you where your programs are trending, where the demand is; it has some very deep return on investment metrics around the delivery of that training, you can actually record information about cost, and get back what incoming revenue you are getting for that. It is basically to provide on demand courses, on non-traditional terms,” Roach explained.

There is some reluctance to adopt cloud-based solutions from higher education at present, he added, although organisations have placed certain specific functions into the cloud, but the uptake is expected to grow within the next couple of years.

The Elevate solution also has out-of-the-box integration with Banner, to enable it to feed into existing data sources. This integration of systems is becoming increasingly important to help education providers and education authorities to get a bigger picture of the success of their graduates — in traditional or in vocational training — and how they meet the demands of the workforce.

Roach said that the technologies exist to provide greater data-driven, quantifiable information into the success of education programs. He gives the example of the UAE’s Khalifa University, which uses Ellucian’s data warehouse business intelligence solution. The vendor worked very closely with the university to understand the requirements and KPIs that each department of the university wanted to monitor, to develop dashboards and reporting that would give instant access to the relevant data.

“To whatever extent an organisation has a strategic plan, or an accreditation plan, or they have a special initiative, to whatever degree they are able to set out those goals and objectives, and hang the key performance metrics that they want to follow, we connect them with that,” he said.

Roach believes that greater co-ordination and sharing between learning institutions and education authorities could shift to creating a holistic view of the individual student and the workforce as a whole. A national qualifications database, which would provide e-transcripts of an individual’s educational history and achievement, would be highly useful to employers and also to government so that they could identify the skills resources that they have, and identify where new education and training is required.

“That is what the government would like to see, they would like to understand what in the first place are our students doing, then as they leave the first wave of education, how do they then improve, adapt and become mobile in the workforce? Do they come back and get more training, are they more skilled? If they can track that real time, you can see the trends, and you can start to judge whether [education provision] is matching up with what industry is telling us,” he concluded.

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