I was considering the fact that most employers of I.T. professionals in Perth (and probably generally in Australia) value work experience and tools experience greatly and place little if any value on education and training. In fact, it seems to me that it is easier to get a job if you have fairly unrelated work experience, than it is to get a job if you have a very relevant degree or certification.
When my father was in H.R. for a computer hardware reseller, he often remarked that the applicants for jobs who had work experience were better than those who had just left Uni. Now, my father greatly values education, and has passed on a love of learning to me. However, what he experienced as a recruiter was that Uni graduates too often had unrealistic ideas about how much money they would get straight away, and would turn down jobs (even if they had no job). They rarely get the kind of money they expect because they think that the head knowledge they have is enough to make them better than others who have less training but more industry experience. Another problem is that tertiary institutions are moving away from education and towards training. They are teaching less theory and principles, and are limiting the curricula to tool-specific training.
This has led to increasing numbers of graduates who can use the latest software tools, but have no grounding in the basics of information theory, mathematics and logic. The lucky ones manage to get this education on their own; the unlucky ones find it increasingly difficult to keep up.
I’m convinced that the cause of all this is that it is too easy for anyone and everyone to get degrees from universities. Someone who barely gets passing grades gets the same degree that someone who excels. Employers have experienced too many applicants who have got a degree but can’t function in the workplace. Graduates are flooding the market without knowledge of fundamentals, with no training in critical thinking and logic, with no knowledge except for rules of thumb and one-size-fits-all toolkit tricks. I place the blame for this mostly on the university who bowed to industry pressure and train students in using tools instead of theory. They take the students’ money, give them what they want – a piece of paper, but in the melting pot of recruitment that piece of paper is almost without value when compared with industry experience.
We need a new university, or a new attitude to what it is that a university is meant to provide. This new university would be run according to the following guiding principles:
- All classes will be grounded in theory and fundamentals. The teaching of tools and specific technologies will take lower priority, and will be used to further the education of the principles, rather than as an end in themselves.
- Only those students who truly demonstrate a mastery of the concepts taught in a class can pass. If an entire class fails, so be it.
- Students may take and re-take a class as many times as they like (and pay for).
- Recruitment of lecturers will be based on their knowledge of and experience with the fundamental concepts of the relevant discipline. They must be willing to continue their own education.
- All lecturers will be given continuous training, with a focus on how to educate (as opposed to just dumping material or focussing only on tools).
- More than half the subjects required to obtain a degree will be devoid of tool- or technology- specific content. Certifications in particular technologies may be provided, but these will not be requirements for any degree.
- Only the best students, those who put the effort in and learn, who demonstrate not just familiarity with, but high competence with the concepts, will graduate.
All the above, but especially the last one, will serve to increase the value of a degree from this university. The goal would be that if an employer sees that an applicant has a degree from this university, they will instantly place that applicant on the top of the pile; if an employee gains a degree or certificate, they will be preferred for promotion and advancement. The reputation of this university will suffer from disillusioned students who will mark it as a “difficult” university – one which almost seems unfair in its refusal to give a little. It will, however, gain a reputation amongst employers for producing only the best graduates. The ones that survive will be sought out by recruiters local and abroad even before they graduate.
An impossible ideal, perhaps? I don’t know – and I wonder if this university would suffer from a financial disadvantage due to (a) lower graduate numbers due to its reputation; and (b) lower government funding due to any artificial ratings based on pass/fail rates (I don’t know whether this is true or not, though). I do know, however, that this is what employers will want and need, and that this is what students want and need – a degree that has real value.
What do you think?