Prof. Ami Moyal is President of Afeka – Tel Aviv Academic College of Engineering.
The world is changing at an increasingly rapid pace, with significant implications on any organization—including academic institutes. If society, the workforce and students change at a greater pace than the educational process, then academic degrees are in danger of losing relevance. On a global scale, this trend is powerfully demonstrated in higher education enrollment figures. The US National Student Clearinghouse Research Center revealed that total postsecondary enrollment decreased by 4.1% in spring 2022 compared to spring 2021.
As the president of Afeka Academic College of Engineering, I have firsthand experience with the need to maintain and even grow the relevance of the education the college provides its students. We wanted to transform engineering education so it better prepares the new generation of students for success in the workforce. So we looked at the relevance of our educational process to determine how we could create more value for students.
How To Redesign The Educational Process
To transform Afeka’s process, we needed to understand the knowledge, skills and values that were integral to our students’ success in the working world. We called this our “graduate profile.” Once we settled on this profile, we used it to guide the transformation of our educational process. We ended up following the same development strategy that often appears in product engineering: ask, imagine, plan, create, experiment and improve.
It’s important to begin by asking two main questions regarding the educational process’s input and output to determine whether there are gaps in the process.
1. Do we have a deep enough understanding of the needs of the industries our graduates will join?
2. Are we admitting new students based on the criteria most strongly correlated with academic success?
Asking these questions allows you to clearly define each element of the graduate profile. Then, take things a step further and define what different levels for each skill (ie, basic, intermediate and advanced) would look like. This will help create the best profile to guide the rest of your redesign process.
One way to find the answers is through surveys and data analysis. For example, we surveyed the Israeli high-tech industry to pinpoint skills employers felt junior engineers were lacking. This allowed us to reevaluate our coursework. Then, we conducted an analysis of student data to determine which admission requirements best predicted student success.
Before actually making any changes, a crucial step is envisioning the ideal characteristics of a more effective, successful process. This will give you a goal to strive for, even if you don’t ultimately capture every characteristic with your plan.
Additionally, you shouldn’t base these ideals exclusively on your own perceptions. Take inspiration from multiple sources. For example, global research reports and surveys to assess the latest trends in higher education and the job market. You could also meet with leaders from other academic institutions to learn about their strategy and best practices. These are all useful data points for designing a unique vision and strategy suited to the goal of your educational process.
Of course, systemic reinvention of your educational process cannot occur without careful planning. Compare the graduate profile you created with the skills already being imparted. Determine what changes are needed and where in the curriculum they should take place. Then, map out how and when you want to make these changes.
A crucial part of the planning is buy-in from all internal stakeholders, like faculty, administrators and board members. So make sure they’re thoroughly involved in the process. Determining the elements of the graduate profile and then defining them in detail together with the relevant management team leads to a commitment of all involved to achieve the desired results.
With the graduate profile serving as a compass, create and implement the changes to your educational process. At Afeka, we created five major updates.
• Added personal skills as learning outcomes of the curricula, focusing on the most sought-after skills that high-tech employers look for in new engineers.
• Supported a wide range of extracurricular activities that offer practical experience and impart skills, which provided students with opportunities to pursue personal passions.
• Encouraged pedagogical innovation to support skills acquisition in all courses.
• Redesigned the physical spaces of the campus to support all forms of teaching and learning.
• Adapted infrastructures and organizational culture by expanding existing activities, developing new foundations dedicated to advancing specific goals and forming an ecosystem with the educational system, nongovernmental organizations and the industry to create opportunities for collaboration and mutual learning.
5. Experiment and Improve
Any change is an ongoing learning process that involves constant experimentation. This is especially true when attempting to revamp an entire educational structure, which can take years to fully implement. So, encouraging trial and error and embracing any failures is important. Being able to adapt and improve whenever possible will lead to faster, better results in the long run.
In today’s fast-paced changing world, higher education institutions must do what they can to remain relevant. Broad curricular change is just one avenue. When education processes are optimized for graduates’ success, the demand for higher education will rise, and increased enrollment will be a natural consequence.
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