From fixed degrees to a collection of skills

University of Helsinki is contemplating its new strategy for 2020-2030. Everybody is engaged in the process. The staff were encouraged to identify global and regional changes that would likely affect the university. The task was challenging. So many things are in turmoil at the same time – yet it is difficult to see the weak signals and forecast the future.

I am willing to wait for another 40 years to see, if my thoughts were even close to the reality in 2059.

I can see is that the world is getting increasingly complicated. Deep understanding and specialized skills aren’t needed only for research and making new inventions but also for everyday jobs. Each nurse, electrician, car service person or librarian require more specialized skills than ever before. These narrow skills are rarely included in school curriculum as they tend to change fast. New programs, tools and applications are taken into practice almost on daily basis. Mastering the right skills is essential in working life.

In my youth a good CV had information about basic education, perhaps a degree from a nice university and a mention of some further studies in the form of short courses.

If specialized skills gain more influence, won’t this change the CVs as well? Shouldn’t the whole education system change? If employers seek for persons who have certain skills, why don’t they simply compare them with our skills sets.

Does the university degree matter anymore?

At present we encourage our students to study full degrees, because the funding instruments require us to do. They need to accomplish bachelor’s degree in three years and master’s in five years. We don’t let them include courses from another faculty to their degree without a permission. Thus, we have predetermined the skills combinations.

Why do we want to make the decision of suitable combinations what to study? Does the university know how the working life will be in 20 years? At present a physicist has rarely studied any biology. An engineer doesn’t know much about law. Shouldn’t we let the students decide what kind of skills match their needs? And furthermore, shouldn’t we let the students from other institutions and adults from working life join our classes?

Supplementing your personal skill set will become a major business very soon.

I would like to present a forecast: those universities and schools that welcome all students to their accredited courses will succeed and gain respect from the society. The governments and employers will also fund them.

Keeping universities as closed entities is slowly coming to its end. All students, including those studying online need to get access to our courses. The funding mechanisms can be adjusted to it. I see the future bright. It may cause competition between institutions, it may require accrediting of courses, but it will also allow people to use a diverse range of education providers without compelling us to study degrees that don’t suit our future plans.