Saturday, 6 October 2018

Universities should issue ‘journeyman’ certificates

When I worked in the education sector I was in the IT department of a major Australian university, one of the Group of Eight. One day near the middle of my tenure a senior manager, who was also an academic, visited my workplace to meet people. She was shorter than me and had dark hair and a polite mien. She shook hands and heard what my name was then she moved dutifully onto the next employee. I eventually signed a workplace agreement to govern my role with the institution and she was the respondent in that process, signing the document on behalf of the university. After that time that I met her the agreement was the only time I had anything to do with her.

But she was on the record promoting the university in the community as a place where learning could be pursued throughout an individual’s life, and not just at the beginning of their time in the workforce. The message was that people could benefit from continuous learning opportunities that institutions like hers could offer them, giving them a way to upskill so that they would be more able to compete for higher-paying jobs, for example, or to change career and move into an area of the economy that offered more employment opportunities.

The problem with this scenario is that the barrier to entry to university is still quite high. A diploma that you pursue part-time still takes a full year, depending on the one you undertake. And often the coursework you are given to complete is stuff you already know because you have been working for a long time in a role that uses that knowledge. You might even know more about your field than the teachers who are employed by the university.

To accommodate this kind of person, universities should establish a “journeyman” program, allowing people in the community to they get guidance from an academic in a chosen field of study for a limited duration, say three or six months, during which time the consumer researches a topic and writes an essay that can then be published on a website like The Conversation.

To qualify for the program the consumer would have to show evidence to the university of prior knowledge. It could be a personal hobby or it could be something related to their career, about which they are evidently much better-informed than the average person in the street. The university could charge a fee for the service and, if the product of the program were of sufficiently high quality, the consumer could then go on to enrol in a doctoral program with a view to completing a longer essay of thesis length.

UPDATE 16 December 2018: I was in a cab coming back home from the city when I heard an ad on the driver's radio about "bespoke" courses being offered by the University of New England. I looked it up when I got home. They are courses where students can pick units of study to undertake from undergraduate and postgraduate lists. You can choose two, three or four units (presumably to study part-time over a period of a year or more):
One option is to design a Bespoke Course using only ‘Fundamental’ units from a degree. A second option is to select only ‘Advanced’ units. In a third option, you can choose a combination of fundamental and advanced units from a degree to create a ‘Critical Content’ Bespoke Course. The last option allows you to combine units from entirely different degrees and disciplines—you can do this as part of a ‘Mix and Match’ Bespoke Course.


Matt Moore said...

I completely agree that university courses are not organized for lifelong learning and are too "lumpy". I think smaller, shorter qualifications should be available. I also agree that the format of courses should flex to accommodate the experience of the student.

The issue with your proposal is actually getting academics to do it. In many cases, they want to focus on research so the teaching gets pushed down to post-docs, PhD students and sessional lecturers. I just cannot see this getting off the ground as the effort required for this kind of intensive 1-on-1 teaching is significant.

BTW getting published on The Conversation is hard.

Matthew da Silva said...

Universities are hard to get to change the way they do things, in my experience. I worked at Sydney Uni for six years in the IT department and the way the place was structured made changing direction very cumbersome because of the restraints put on the organisation by a code of collegiality that values consensus. The only way you can get them to change is to offer them some money as a reward. This is why I think the Ramsay Centre will eventually be successful in getting its course ideas implemented somewhere. If the Univ of Sydney doesn't take the cash, someone else will.