At the recent GSA Heads’ Conference, we were asked to consider whether the best students need to specialise at Russell Group universities. A provocative statement indeed, especially for schools, such as BGS, where large number of our students attend Russell Group universities. But the evidence is growing, an increasing number of employers are becoming degree blind. Deloitte, and Ernst and Young are developing their own tests to find the students they need. Penguin, Unilever, Google and IBM are all beginning to look beyond the degree and setting up a selection process that gives scant regard to the quality of university qualification.
Why? Because they are finding that degrees are specialised in silos of knowledge. Students are not able to connect knowledge. Societal problems are not subject specific they cut across silos. If graduates cannot problem solve, think laterally, collaborate and work in different dimensions they are not useful to their employers.
More and more I am hearing from our parents, who are the future employers that the skills they need in their businesses are sorely lacking in young graduates. They cite a lack of initiative, a lack of creativity or the need to be micro-managed. If this is the case it is not surprising that large businesses are beginning to disregard the degree and instead test the graduates directly in these skills.
Our students are also becoming more savvy. Whilst there is the intrinsic joy of learning, the reality of a £50k debt and insecure employment prospects forces many to question the need for a degree. Apprenticeships are becoming game changers. Why stack up a debt when you can have direct access to the profession without paying the costs.
Universities, like schools, are having to review what they are teaching. Sir Anthony Seldon at the GSA Conference reminded us that we are facing the biggest revolution in tertiary education in 60 years. If universities continue to deliver what they are currently teaching they will not survive. It is not enough to teach History, French, or Spanish; they need as part of their degrees to be teaching data and technological literacy, holistic and systems thinking, entrepreneurship and perhaps increasingly important in today’s world, critical thinking and the discernment of what is truth.
A new market in universities will appear, two year degrees, bilateral degrees, nano degrees, alternatives to universities, diversification within universities and increasingly students applying to individual institutions rather than through UCAS. Unconditional offers are just a taste of things to come and we need to be ready.
At BGS with our emphasis on building learning skills, providing a forward thinking careers education, which encourages the girls to consider alternatives and offering the IB Diploma Programme, an internationally recognised qualification, are all ways in which we are working hard to make sure our girls have an education and mind-set which is future focused.