I was recently asked to hold a consultancy with an education group in India. Like the US, the corporate sector in India is investing in education at the pre-secondary and post-secondary levels.
Part of my responsibilities included understanding the choices available to Indian students wishing to study outside India: in the US, the UK, Singapore and Australia.
They also included developing a strategy for student recruitment and counseling, which would make the setting up of a new company a feasible venture.
As a humanities scholar, I have often felt a little puzzled at the seeming lack of connection between teaching faculty and the “business” end of an institution. Teachers and lecturers are asked to help students earn a degree, without their being involved in the wider process of calculating and providing for material costs and of determining the overall direction of the institution.
To me this has seemed for a while a rather one-sided approach to institution building, so I was delighted to have a chance to develop a more whole view of the educational process.
I was asked to look particularly at Engineering, Management and IT degrees. Having worked in education for several years, the Managing Director of the group felt that students were most likely to want to gain credentials in these fields. Management degrees which offered internships, and the possibility of a job offer after graduation, were put at the top of the list.
Now, I taught international students on pre-sessional courses at the University of Leicester for three summers between 2009 and 2012. These were indeed amongst the most popular degrees chosen by students – the majority of whom were Chinese. So just based on my anecdotal experience of India and China, I think I can say that both these countries, tipped to grow into yet stronger economic powers over the course of the twenty-first century, can draw on a pragmatically conscious student population.
And yet, when I put this question to my students – what is management and why are you doing it? The answer from most of them was – I don’t know what it is, and – my parents wanted me to. Or simply – I need to get a job when I finish.
Answers were a little more concrete for students taking up engineering and management – but not very much more so.
To loosely paraphrase Sheryl Sandberg, the current COO of Facebook, in her 2013 book Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, management is the art of completing difficult and complex tasks in limited time. It ought not to be that hard for management undergraduates and postgraduates to describe some of what they’re going to spend the next two to three years of their lives doing.
The fact that it can be, suggests to me that there is an opportunity here for universities to address the gap in understanding displayed, so that students can make meaningful choices for themselves.
I think the operative phrase is “meaningful choice.” Employability is a buzzword that students have flagged up to them constantly. But surely a livelihood must be earned in a manner that suits the temperament and talents of an individual?
My concern is that students do not choose degrees purely on the basis of a trend, but because they feel individually drawn to their choice.
I’d be interested to know how many other teachers and lecturers feel that they understand, or would like to understand, the “big picture” in terms of the choices their students have made?