Two things universities should focus on while addressing needs of 21st century and beyond

02 December 2019
Updated 02 December 2019

Two things universities should focus on while addressing needs of 21st century and beyond

As an educational thought leader, I would like to share with you what I think universities need to focus on in Saudi Arabia and beyond to capture all segments of the market. But before I dive into it, let’s make sure we are all on the same page.

The major audience that universities serve all over the world is students. We, as educators, must listen to our customers and treat them as such. Yes, our customers are still young and, in most cases, they might not know what they need; nonetheless, we still have to cater to their needs as customers. We cannot force people to major in subjects they do not like.

The same thing is true for when we do not offer enough new majors that capture this generation’s interest. We cannot follow the saying: “If it’s not broken, then don’t fix it.” We need to innovate with our offerings, be it offering new majors or updating the curriculum.

I would like to share with you my thoughts on a webinar I listened to just recently by Inside Higher Ed, where one of the speakers mentioned a statistic that at first scared me. But as I dwelled on it, I found an opportunity for universities to capitalize on.

The statistics was that the average 18-year-old today has a very good chance of living past 100 years, and will most probably be working for about 60.

This is an opportunity for universities to cater for more mature audiences, or “lifelong learners.” Universities can give them new skills that they need to change or advance, what I call their “second life careers.”

This is where we, as universities and professors, need to consider a new set of audiences who are more mature and know exactly what they want and how they want it to be taught. This will be a tough crowd to please, but nonetheless, post-retirement education will be vital for universities to tap into to find alternative ways to become more sustainable. Lives are lengthening with the help of technology, lifesaving medication, and newly adapted healthy lifestyles.

The second thing that universities must cater for is professional development certification.

Now this is where universities can become more innovative in their offerings and not confined to a specific curriculum. It is here where professors can be creative and inspire people to get the most from hands-on knowledge and practical skills.

Professional development certification can be a very good stream of income, along with retirement education or lifelong learning. I think it is time that we pay a great deal of attention to these things, if we are to advance our workforce and enter new territories of the 21st century and beyond.

• Dr. Taghreed Al-Saraj is a best-selling Saudi author, an international public speaker and an entrepreneurship mentor.