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Empowering educators: Academic convergence with industry for enhanced student employability

  • 28 June 2024
  • By Veronica Omeni
  • This HEPI blog was kindly written by Veronica Omeni, Principal Consultant at QS Quacquarelli Symonds.

In the gap between education and industry, there is an expectation that students’ demands for skills will align seamlessly with the dynamics of the workplace. Reports such as The Future of Jobs 2023 by the World Economic Forum and the QS Skills Gap Report emphasise the importance of both technical and soft skills, but the challenge lies in effectively imparting these skills to students in traditional educational settings.

The dynamic nature of the business world presents a significant challenge for educators striving to understand the evolving needs of industries and workplaces. There can be a disconnect in perceptions and expectations of employability, often rooted in experiential and cultural differences.

While learners strive for employability and work-readiness, with a more proficient knowledge of sleek technological solutions used in companies daily (70% are already familiar with generative AI technology – QS Generative AI Student Report 2023), not all educators and academics are adept with the technological innovations and social media tools integral to business operations.  

Exploring the power of industry secondments

Work placements have been traditionally perceived through the lens of the student experience and a paradigm shift is required. Cecilia K. Y. Chan, Head of Professional Development and Associate Professor at the University of Hong Kong, advocates for mandatory work experiences for academics.

These experiences provide academics with an updated understanding of employer needs, foster opportunities for industry-relevant research, secure funding, and establish improved links between academia and businesses. By experiencing the challenges and fast pace of change and adaptation that businesses face, educators can better prepare their students to meet the demands of real-world commercial and industrial job markets.

ESMT Berlin’s Seconded Employees Programme is an innovative initiative where academics are seconded to industry roles, fostering a dynamic exchange between academia and industry and developing fresh perspectives and academic rigour in the seconded academics.

This symbiotic relationship between academia and industry ensures that educational curricula remain relevant and rooted in reality, aligning with the workforce’s dynamic needs.

Innovation in the fluid interchange of knowledge

The UK’s Knowledge Exchange Framework (KEF) encourages researcher engagement with businesses, the public and the community. Universities and business schools can explore pathways for greater fluidity between academia and industry to ensure an up-to-date understanding of how research should be embedded in teaching and learning. It’s also vital to understanding the critical role of higher education institutions in social and environmental impact, measured by the QS World University Rankings: Sustainability.

The Industrial Decarbonisation Research and Innovation Centre (IDRIC) at Heriot-Watt University funds secondments to enhance the UK’s capacity to develop industrial decarbonisation projects by facilitating collaboration between academia and industry. These collaborations extend beyond the traditional boundaries of academia and create a dynamic knowledge exchange between educators and industry professionals. Reciprocal benefits include cutting-edge research, innovative solutions to real-world problems and enhanced employability.

Industry collaborations contribute to the overall academic reputation of institutions, attracting high-calibre faculty and students and gaining recognition from academic and employer communities.

Pioneering the fusion of classroom wisdom and corporate savvy

According to a report from McKinsey, 87% of companies expect to experience or already have a skills gap, meaning there is a disparity between the skills they need and the capabilities they find in those they hire.

Academics play a pivotal role in ensuring that qualifications gained in education translate into real-world practical needs. This necessitates close collaboration and contact with employers, not only through students and work placement units but also in research and curriculum development.

The Wroclaw University of Economics collaborates with various economic entities including small-to-large enterprises, local government organisations, state administration institutions, and civil services. The university has a history of providing academics with paid placements. The Office of Science and Cooperation with the Economy is pivotal in facilitating seamless collaboration and is a central hub for fostering partnerships.

Creating a fluid exchange of knowledge and perspectives is a win-win scenario for all stakeholders. By actively involving industry professionals in curriculum development, higher education institutions can ensure that skills and expertise align closely with the job market’s current and future needs, bridging the gap between academic theory and practical application to enhance educational quality and relevance.

Fostering a holistic approach

As a result of debates around conflict of interest in managing academic time and resources, some believe a more efficient approach is to headhunt individuals from industry to academia. However, the pedagogical and theoretical experience that academics with a more traditional career trajectory can offer cannot be understated. It’s not an ‘either/or’ option.

Balancing the integration of industry professionals and academia requires thoughtful resource management and strategic planning. Academic institutions can invest in training programmes that equip industry experts with the pedagogical skills necessary to excel in educational settings.

Simultaneously, traditional educators transitioning to industry placements should receive ongoing support to adapt to the dynamic, less hierarchical, unpredictable, and fast-paced nature of the corporate environment. This experience can then be applied to designing curricula that focus on leadership, technical skills, soft skills, and agility needed to meet the demands of the corporate world.

The University of Birmingham’s Knowledge Transfer Partnerships illustrate how dedicating 10% of academic time to collaborating with partner companies leads to pioneering research and publications, providing valuable insights to partner companies, fostering innovation and enhancing competitiveness in the market.

Academia’s quest for excellence in employability

A symbiotic relationship between academia and industry is crucial for producing employable graduates and fostering innovation. Adopting external secondments for academic and university staff and adopting collaborative initiatives can bridge generational and experiential gaps, ensuring that education aligns with the ever-evolving demands of the workplace.

Through strategic collaboration, ongoing professional development, and a commitment to bridging the gap between theory and practice, academic institutions can position themselves as dynamic hubs for disseminating knowledge, truly relevant innovation, and real-world skill enhancement.

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