Is studying at a university essential these days?
After the publication of my previous article, I received so many comments and questions on social media that I thought the topic deserved more analysis.
Like it or not, change is coming fast in the Western world, and it will affect us soon here in the Middle East. Large companies, like Amazon and Google, are moving toward bypassing the need for higher education in favor of their own training and development programs, to arm their employees with skills to meet their job requirements.
Amazon will spend $700,000 over the next 6 years to retrain 100,000 employees, in IT roles and software development skills, via the Amazon Technical Academy. Ardine Williams, Amazon’s vice president of workforce development, has said this will make the company an even more attractive employer. It makes sense: This scheme will give high school graduates or university dropouts relevant skills relatively debt-free, ensuring a steady supply of suitable employees with a degree of loyalty already in place. Of course, it may also change current employees’ views of working conditions at Amazon, as a lot of current jobs will be replaced by machines in the near future.
This may all seem well and good, but how will mass skill training by giant companies affect our current educational system? How will it change our mentality for the need of traditional universities, and the value we place on higher education? Well, let me tell you now: We will see the rise of new technical colleges around the world, with a fast turnover of graduates, two years courses opposed to 4-year degrees, with lower debt and more practical skills entering the workforce.
These technical colleges will finally take the lead in higher education, and with the power of multinational corporations behind them, will also get the attention that they have always craved. In the Middle East and other parts of the world, they have often lacked the respectability of universities — culture has dictated a degree was the most important thing to aim for. That will all change, as career paths in tech firms, especially, becomes ever more lucrative and aspirational. If these technical colleges move fast enough, they can partner with other big companies and develop joint programs, getting a huge slice of the graduate program pie.
In a casual survey I did on my Twitter account, asking in English “will we still need a university degree to get a job by 2021?” 64 percent said yes, 21 percent said no, and 15 percent said maybe. When I asked the same question again in Arabic, the results were 58 percent for yes, 32 percent for no, and 10 percent for maybe. The total number of votes, a matter of a few hundred, were not massive, but you can still see the different mentalities of different demographics about the direction the future is heading.
• Dr. Taghreed Al-Saraj is a best-selling Saudi author, an international public speaker and an entrepreneurship mentor.