prof. Ami Moyal is chairman of Afeka – Tel Aviv Academic College of Engineering.
The world is changing at an ever-accelerating pace, with significant implications for every organization, including academic institutions. If society, the workforce and students change faster than the educational process, academic degrees risk losing relevance. On a global scale, this trend is strongly reflected in higher education enrollment rates. The US National Student Clearinghouse Research Center revealed that total post-secondary enrollment in Spring 2022 is down 4.1% compared to Spring 2021.
As the president of Afeka Academic College of Engineering, I have first-hand experience of the need to maintain and even grow the relevance of the education the college provides to its students. We wanted to transform technical education so that it better prepares the new generation of students for success in the labor market. So we looked at the relevance of our education process to determine how we could create more value for students.
How to redesign the educational process
To transform Afeka’s process, we needed to understand the knowledge, skills and values that were essential to our students’ success in the world of work. We called this our ‘graduate profile’. Once we settled on this profile, we used it to guide the transformation of our education process. In the end, we followed the same development strategy that often occurs in product engineering: ask, propose, plan, create, experiment and improve.
It is important to start by asking two main questions about the input and output of the educational process to determine if there are any gaps in the process.
1. Do we have an adequate understanding of the needs of the industries our graduates join?
2. Do we admit new students based on the criteria that are most closely associated with study success?
Asking these questions will help you clearly define each element of the graduate profile. Then take it a step further and define what the different levels for each skill (i.e. Basic, Intermediate, and Advanced) should look like. This will help create the best profile to guide the rest of your process redesign.
One way to find the answers is through surveys and data analysis. For example, we surveyed the Israeli high-tech industry to find out what skills employers felt junior engineers lacked. This enabled us to re-evaluate our courses. We then conducted an analysis of student data to determine which entry requirements best predicted student success.
Before actually making changes, a critical step is to come up with the ideal characteristics of a more effective, successful process. This gives you a goal to strive for, even if you don’t end up capturing every attribute with your plan.
Moreover, you should not base these ideals solely on your own perceptions. Get inspiration from multiple sources. For example, research global reports and surveys to assess the latest trends in higher education and the job market. You can also meet leaders from other academic institutions to learn more about their strategy and best practices. Each and every one of these is useful data for designing a unique vision and strategy that fits the purpose of your educational process.
Of course, a systematic reinvention of your educational process cannot happen without careful planning. Compare the graduate profile you’ve created with the skills already being taught. Determine what changes are needed and where in the curriculum they should take place. Then map out how and when you want to implement these changes.
A crucial part of the planning is the agreement of all internal stakeholders, such as teachers, administrators and board members. So make sure they are properly involved in the process. Determining the elements of the graduation profile and then defining them in detail together with the relevant management team leads to a commitment from all parties involved to achieve the desired results.
With the profile of the graduate as a compass, you create and implement the changes in your educational process. At Afeka, we’ve made five major updates.
• Personal skills added as curricula learning outcomes, targeting the most sought-after skills that high-tech employers look for in new engineers.
• Supported a wide range of extracurricular activities that provide hands-on experience and teach skills, giving students the opportunity to pursue personal passions.
• Pedagogical innovation encouraged to support skill acquisition in all courses.
• Redesigned campus physical spaces to support all forms of teaching and learning.
• Adapted infrastructure and organizational culture by expanding existing activities, developing new foundations aimed at advancing specific goals and creating an ecosystem with the education system, non-governmental organizations and industry to create opportunities for collaboration and mutual learning .
5. Experiment and improve
Any change is an ongoing learning process involving constant experimentation. This is especially true when attempting to revamp an entire educational structure, which can take years to fully implement. So it’s important to encourage trial and error and embrace any failures. Being able to adapt and improve where possible will lead to faster, better results in the long run.
In today’s rapidly changing world, higher education institutions must do what they can to stay relevant. Broad curricular change is only one way. When education processes are optimized for graduate success, the demand for higher education will increase and enrollment will naturally increase.
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