What Happened in 2012?
Last year saw grand changes and rapid developments in education, from the expanding world of digital courses, to growing opportunities for overseas expansion. Here are 3 important events in education from the past year:
(1) Recession or Progression?: While both America and the Eurozone continue to drown in debt, figures surrounding graduate employment prospects were mixed, as expected. The United States is certainly on better course than Europe; a survey of employers indicated that 9.5% more graduates from the class of 2012 were hired in the US than had been the previous year. On the other hand, studies undertaken in the UK made for less pleasant reading, with Warwick University’s Institute for Employment Research having found that graduate job and salary prospects in 2012 were significantly worse than a decade prior, when their previous survey was conducted. What seems certain, however, is that graduates are more likely to be employed if armed with a STEM subject degree (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).
(2) Online Education: University-level courses conducted over the internet went down a storm last year. The two main competitors in the field, Stanford University’s Coursera programs, and the edX courses run by Harvard and MIT, have both grown exponentially, with the former having surpassed the coveted 1 million users mark. With the impact they had in 2012, the new year can expect more of the same.
(3) Rethinking Secondary School: British Education Secretary Michael Gove last year announced plans to overhaul the GCSE system of secondary education in the UK, and introduce a new ‘English Baccalaureate’ – or ‘E-Bac’. Most interestingly the plans were unveiled around the same time that the education company Pearson published a world education ranking that placed the UK just 6th overall, behind leaders Finland, South Korea, and Hong Kong. The company’s chief education advisor, Sir Michael Barbour, implied that high rankings were awarded to countries in which teachers enjoy a higher social status, and where a ‘culture’ of education is generally more pervasive. Germany ranked 15th and the United States 17th. Such judgements did a great deal to shake up the western world’s self-confidence and should force it to reexamine its approach to secondary education in the new year.
What’s Going to Happen in 2013?
Nobody really knows what changes we will see over the coming year, but given recent developments, it is safe to make a prediction or two – and even one prescription!
(1) Small-Scale Online Education: Just as large and powerful universities successfully reached out to online audiences last year, this year might see smaller educational enterprises try the same thing. One example of such a programme is EinsteinWise, started by two engineers from Vancouver and designed to make students compete in STEM subjects on a global level. With the meteoric expansion of social media, there is no reason why more projects shouldn’t take-off.
(2) International Competition: For years, even decades, the world university rankings have been dominated by western universities, principally from the UK and the US. It is likely that the coming year will see an increasing number of challenges to this status quo. It was rumoured that the French government – whilst still under the rule of Nicolas Sarkozy – harboured ambitions to develop France’s own Ivy League. The campaign, known as the ‘Initiatives d’Exellence‘, was pioneered by the former President, who hoped to create a ‘Sorbonne League’ of world class universities by offering investment to the country’s top existing institutions in exchange for their cooperation with one another. Meanwhile, universities in China and Hong Kong are also growing rapidly. However, the US is not to be easily outdone. Many of its top institutions – somewhat unimprovable in themselves – have began to expand abroad by opening international business schools and research units overseas.
(3) Teaching Comes First: Although it is as much of a hope as it is a prediction, the past few years have seen signs of academic departments in the west needing somewhat of a cultural overhaul. Though much of the discussion arose in light of tuition rises, student satisfaction in many English-speaking universities has declined in recent years, with many citing the lack of attention paid to them by professors more interested in their research. Most course ‘majors’ are very specialized and structured as to prepare students for further study in the same subject. Some newly established universities have picked up on this, and have consequently constructed more rounded curricula with compulsory elements for all students. The precarious nature of professors’ tenure, in particular the pressure to publish or be replaced, leaves many students feeling neglected or unspoken for. A tentative solution would be the introduction of core curricula to universities that don’t already have one, such as that undertaken at Columbia University in New York. Such programs provide students with a shared identity and sense of common participation. They go a long way to ward off the common anxiety in specialized academia that one is wandering into a labyrinthine niche from which there is no return. Whatever it may, this year universities will need to devise some method of enthusing students through the financial crisis.