Future of Education: Universities Are not Placement Offices

January 02, 2017 •

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Future of Education: Universities Are not Placement Offices

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With around 19,000 universities in the world today, are higher education institutions producing the right sort of graduates required by industries such as the hospitality sector, and are students getting the education they deserve and need?

Academic Denis Berthiaume, who has been recognized by the International Council for Educational Development (ICED) for his contribution to pedagogy, outlined the changes and trends within higher education in a recent session with faculty at EHL.

“We have moved from a system where higher education was for a very small percentage of the population,” he told Hospitality Insights in an interview. “It was synonymous with intellectual development, whereas today higher education is seen as something that everyone must go through to get a job almost. And it’s seen as the way of getting prepared for the job market.”

So without falling into the trap of using universities as placement offices, universities and higher education institutions in general have moved into a different societal role to that they had 40 years ago.


Academic programs, he says, have been trying to align themselves with the immediate needs of society and industry, but also medium and longer-term needs.

“If we were merely placement offices, we’d look at that employers need now and send them people who have those skills. But the issue is, how do we create people who will be able to evolve (and develop) over their whole careers of about 30-35 years, knowing that they’ll change employment on many occasions and knowing that they’ll need some kind of generic skills that they’ll be able to transfer from one work environment to another, and knowing that they’ll probably have to come back to higher education to gain some additional knowledge and skills, with this idea of lifelong learning being so important in the coming years?”

Most programs are nowadays emphasizing soft skills or generic skills, he says, “and by that we mean the various intellectual, social or even professional processes that people need to develop, to function, in today’s society.”

But with the rapid pace of change in society, given technological advances, will problem-solving and adaptability be among the key skills graduates will need?

“They will need to be able to recognize the skills they have and learn how to transfer those skills to different settings. That’s a fairly difficult thing to do from a psychological point of view: being able to look at a given situation, recognize certain parameters and transpose those to a new situation so that you can actually apply the skills you had in a previous environment.”

In the interview, he outlined ‘some major revolutions’ in teaching and learning, and not all the change was due to technology although it has been one of many factors.

He cites problem-based learning (in fields such as medicine), project-based teaching (engineering, etc.), the so-called ‘flipped classroom’ in which emphasis is placed on applying knowledge acquired before the class itself (“this was something people were doing before, but the advent of technology made it even easier”), plus learning and professional development portfolios, with students deciding which courses they want to attend.

We now know that if you want them to develop (a particular) skill, you need to put to put them in a situation where they actually need to work on developing that skill, testing what they’ve understood and really refining it through discussions with colleagues and other people. So you can still have those large environments (such as lecture theaters) but you won’t be able to stand at the front of a classroom for an hour and be the only one speaking. You’re going to have to be more interactive with (students) and have them be more interactive with one another.

“So 10 years from now, this idea of flexibility, where a lot of the learning will take place outside the classroom – some of it mediated with technology, some of it not – and then moments where we’ll be in contact with the professor, either physically in a classroom or in a virtual classroom. This is going to be the reality of tomorrow, because when we look at what we have already, it’s obvious we’re going in that direction.”


Denis Berthiaume began his faculty development work in 1999 when he joined the Center for University Teaching and Learning at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. In 2005, he moved to the University of Southampton in the UK and in 2006 was appointed Director of the newly-created Center for Teaching and Learning at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland. After moving to Paris in 2012 and working as a consultant with more than 30 French universities, he returned to Switzerland in 2014 to become Vice-rector of Quality Assurance and Enhancement at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts of Western Switzerland. He retired from his HES-SO post in 2017 for medical reasons.

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