A new report from The Economist entitled “Automated, Creative & Dispersed”, has an interesting section on the future of Higher Education. In The University of the Future: A New Course (page 18), the authors examine the view that the university of the future will need to align itself more closely with the needs of industry, in order to be able to supply employers with the right kind of skills.
The article quotes Liz Shutt, policy director at the University Alliance, who says:
“We need to develop skills in interaction with business and in preparing students for the work world.”
She goes on to say that universities and schools will need to be aware of the evolving nature of work and direct students towards careers “where the skills needs clearly exist”.
Coming at a time when the “skills gap” is almost universally acknowledged to be one of the biggest problems affecting the national economy, the thrust of the piece is a timely reminder that this is an issue which educational institutions need to get to grips with quickly. As we have remarked before (for example in our contribution to last year’s GuildHE Strategic Planning Conference), universities are going to have to get away from the old supply-led model of churning out graduates into an economy which doesn’t necessarily need their skills, to a new demand-led model which responds effectively to the needs of the economy.
However, Liz Shutt’s point about directing students towards careers “where the skills needs clearly exist” begs the question: “where exactly are those skills needs?” A number of approaches might be taken. For instance, a university might have already forged links with some employers and can discover what their needs are just by speaking to them. In other cases the needs might be obvious, such as if an employer announces that it is going to be creating X number of graduate level jobs over the next few years. However, these types of methods are somewhat random and not particularly effective in uncovering what the real structural needs of the local and regional economy are.
So what is the answer? In a word: Data. By far the most effective method for a university to uncover the skills needs in the region in which it operates is to tap into industry and occupation data specific to that region. By doing so, universities can begin to find out the answers to some of the following questions:
- Which industries in our region are set to grow the most over the next few years?
- Which graduate occupations do these industries employ?
- Who are the employers?
- How do our courses compare to the current and future needs of our regional economy?
These questions, and many more besides, can all be answered by good local Labour Market Data, and the same data can also be used to — as Liz Shutt says — direct students towards careers in those needed occupations. For a more in-depth look at how this can work in practice, we would direct you to a piece we ran earlier in the year, How Universities Can Drive Regional Prosperity, Part 1 (Curriculum) and Part 2 (Careers).
If, as The Economist suggests, the university of the future will be one that seeks to align itself better with the needs of industry, it will need to be smart about how it sets out to achieve this. If it is to thrive in this aim, data is certainly going to be key.
For more details about how our data can help your university better understand the needs of regional industry, contact Jamie Mackay at firstname.lastname@example.org