Are universities preparing students for the workforce?

Today’s world, characterized by the fast-paced evolution of information technology, rapid industrialization, and modernization, demands an efficient workforce to ensure the systematic functioning of economies. University and college education is the most integral part of an individual’s learning process since exposure to formal education is minimized in subsequent years.Governments allow a significant proportion of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) towards higher education because they believe that these students will become the driving force of the country’s economy.  While focussing on students’ career and creating an effective workforce is a major purpose of higher education, is it justified to neglect all other aspects attached to the role of higher education? Is valuing economic gains over social welfare a wise option for the modern-day education system?

How to derive an efficient workforce? 

The desire to have an efficient workforce has completely transformed the education system such that the primary purpose of universities and colleges is focusing more on preparing employees for the future workforce. Notwithstanding the importance of university and college education in preparing students for the workforce, the lack of focus on intellectual development, negligence towards the civic engagement of students and establishment of hierarchy amongst different academic subjects is destroying the true essence of higher education.

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iStock Photo    American Progress

One of the primary purposes of higher education is to maximize the intellectual potential of individuals. A key ingredient in intellectual development is to ingrain in students the practice of critical thinking. Critical thinking refers to the ability of an individual to carefully analyse and evaluate issues from various perspectives, before constructing a rational conclusion.  “Even when all experts agree, they may well be mistaken.” (Russell 2). Students should be capable enough to challenge the ideas and beliefs directly taught to them. While universities and colleges are focussing on preparing students for workforce, they are restricting their focus towards the intellectual development of students. Is it justified to segment students on the mere basis of their academic performance where the only criterion is to score good marks in standardized tests?  The mind-set that academic success is a criterion for the students to enter the workforce is not going to spark imagination and create passion and perseverance for learning amongst students.

If students know that they are only attaining a higher education to be a part of the workforce, then they would not try to question things which are being taught to them. The basic difference between knowledge and understanding requires us to achieve a lot more through education than just the ability to recall certain facts at a given time. A survey conducted by UCLA Higher Education Research Institute stated that 99.6% of university teachers agreed on the importance of critical thinking and how it should be a primary goal if education (Burke, Sears, Kraus and Roberts-Cady 2). Hence, universities and colleges should focus on grooming students and mentally prepare them to be able to adapt to varying scenarios rather than just train them for professional careers.

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Additionally, universities and colleges should have a civic mission of preparing students for their future participation in the community.  Civic engagement refers to the participation in the community to improve the overall well-being of the members of the society. This participation can take various forms from helping the fellow members of the community to fulfilling our own duties. If education will not make the students realize their responsibility towards the society, then it will be highly unlikely for them to think in terms of social welfare and the common good. Professor Fred D’Agostino of the University of Queensland argues that two of the key ideas related to higher education is related to the creation of a robust democracy and a civilized society (‘‘Higher education’’). An educated person with an inquiring mind can help to strengthen a country’s democracy.

The ability of an individual to better understand the dynamics of democracy and analyze the impacts of various governmental decision can ensure that governments are accountable to their citizens. The importance of an educated population becomes more vital when this population votes to decide who will govern them for the next few years. A well-educated society can decide who will be the best person to represent their interests at the national and international level. Additionally, integrating community service into the regular curriculum will provide more opportunities for the students to interact with their people and make a positive difference in their lives.  Community service and volunteering activities can redefine students’ sense of civic responsibility and can help them to develop a strong passion to work for others.  Therefore, universities and colleges should educate students in such a way that they leave the academia not just as mere spectators in the community, but as better and responsible citizens.

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Lastly, universities and colleges should focus on diversifying their educational approach rather than creating a hierarchy between different subjects. When colleges and universities focus on preparing students for the workforce, they tend to limit their academic focus to certain subjects. An internationally established hierarchy amongst subjects can be seen where Mathematics and Sciences are preferred over Arts and Humanities. The education system tends to focus on meeting the demand of the industrial world and fails to recognize the exceptional talents possessed by many students. Pablo Picasso said that “All children are artists, the problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up” ( Stewart 185).

Lack of opportunities to study Arts and Humanities mean universities and colleges are squandering individual talents ruthlessly. The restricted focus on certain subjects does not allow students to be creative and think of something new since they are always afraid to make any mistakes. Students tend to follow the already set academic criteria and try to be amongst the top few students because this is how universities and colleges are training students for the workforce. Many students often give up on their dream and decide not to pursue their hobbies and subjects they like just because of the set notion that this is not what the industries demand.  Hence, the primary mission of universities and colleges should not be to prepare students for workforce as it prioritizes certain subjects over the others.

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Conversely, proponents believe that primary mission of universities and colleges should be to prepare students for the workforce. Given the existing financial uncertainty and cutthroat competition in economies, firms hire students with valuable skills necessary for employment. Also, after making a strenuous effort throughout their higher education years and investing a notable sum of money as their tuition fee, students expect to get good jobs once they graduate. However, what such critics need to realize is that apart from the profession and technical skills, there are other qualities which employers want to see in their employees.

A person who can think critically and argue rationally will get priority over a person who just has specialized knowledge in a certain subject area. Moreover, for economies to prosper it is necessary that prudent economic policies are implemented which can encourage economic growth in a country. Sufficient emphasis on the social aspect of education can prepare an educated electorate which is more likely to elect competent leaders and policymakers. Lastly, students must be more concerned about their overall intellectual development rather than their future job prospects because it will help to create in them a curiosity for learning and will prepare them to adapt to all challenging circumstances.

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In conclusion, the role of universities and colleges cannot be disregarded in preparing students for workforce; however, this should not be the primary purpose of higher education. Education is likely to have a micro and macro aspect attached to it. At micro level, it will help the individuals to get financial stability and plays a role in their intellectual development and at macro level it will provides a skilled workforce and responsible citizens for the society. The education system today must not have conformity where everyone is ranked per their academic performance but it should encourage diversity and help them to realise their roles as the members of the society. When universities and colleges are successful in developing critical thinking abilities, mentoring responsible citizens and encouraging multiple talents in academia, then only they will do justice to the existing educational systems.

Works Cited

Russell, Bertrand. Sceptical Essays. London: Allen & Unwin, 1961. Print

Wyer, K. (2009). U.S. faculty: Civic engagement, diversity important goals for undergraduate

education. Retrieved June 14, 2011 Wyer, K. (2009).

Stewart, Robert B. Value Optimization for Project and Performance Management. Hoboken,

NJ: Wiley, 2010. Print.

Burke, Brian. “Teaching of Psychology.” Sagepub, 31st December 2013. Web.31st October


D’Agostino, Fred. “Higher Education Is Not about Getting a Job.” YouTube. YouTube, 25 May 2014. Web. 01 Nov. 2016.

Featured Image Credits: Four Corners Group


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