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Tertiary education is generally focused on developing skills for work. It is typically funded through loans (or generous parents). The idea is that students recover the cost of tertiary education in the form of higher salaries once they enter the world of work.

Universities aim to equip students with skills for the workplace. But they also have an academic intent to expand knowledge – typically through doctoral and post-doctoral work at the university. Such knowledge expansion is usually publicly funded, but academics are encouraged to find opportunities to commercialize their research through start-ups or by licensing their intellectual property.

The focus of tertiary institutes is to attract students who pay fees for their courses. In return, the university provides a certificate that should help the student get a well-paid job. Students’ future success depends largely on their university’s brand and reputation.

Many businesses have created their own certifications, typically related to their products. Their aim? To set a minimum standard for professionals working with their products (and in some cases, the certifications create incremental revenue streams). Certifications are commonplace among large technology vendors such as Amazon, SAP and Microsoft. In fact, IBM partners with institutions to provide its certifications – making the qualifications more easily available to students and helping IBM train more workers in its technologies. Taking a similar approach, companies like Accenture partner with local technical colleges and provide apprenticeship programs. In addition, non-profit organizations like the Open Group also offer certifications. Again, each organization’s brand and reputation will influence the likelihood of someone with its certifications getting a better-paid job.

Recently some organizations have begun recruiting students directly from school and relaxing the requirement for a tertiary degree – even for professional activities. The student benefits by entering the workforce earlier and avoiding the burden of student debt; and the organization benefits by being able to pay lower salaries for lower certification levels. This is a trade-off between losing the social and personal benefits of tertiary education and the upside of avoiding student debt.

Jobs are becoming increasingly specialized and complex – and it takes longer than ever to develop the necessary depth and experience to be valued by the community. It already takes many years to become qualified in professions like medicine – and this trend is set to increase as demand for specialized skills rises. The longer the training, the greater the expectation of increased long-term compensation to offset the educational debt.

We can use technology to address these challenges. For example, virtual and AI-based learning can lower the cost of education and improve the quality. This is not to suggest we can replace the human element in teaching; rather, we can augment teaching with technology to deliver more personalized learning experiences. We can also envisage a broader population providing skill mentoring – potentially through a digital platform. As technology lowers the cost of education, the burden of educational debt should shrink and the value of education becomes stronger.

What do you think of the value of education?

 

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