Increasing the Value of University Teaching: Expert Lectures

Lately, I’ve been considering why any student nearing university age would choose to pursue this form on further education. I’ve had a number of revealing conversations about the expected debt incurred and whether the value add of a University degree is still seen as positively as it used to be, when fees were not charged. As my daughter is reaching GCSE age, it’s particularly relevant in our family and I’m inclined to encourage her towards alternative routes, not just because of cost.

I’ve attended TEDxOxford for three consecutive years and am always touched, astounded and inspired by their speakers. In the most recent one from February 2023, a 12 year old girl, a refugee from Ukraine spoke of her escape and subsequent experience in the UK. I was in awe of her tenacity, resilience, and strength of mind; not just to flee and rebuild but to speak about it in front of a few thousand in the audience. These lectures have real emotive and social impact and are memorable as a result.

Increasingly, I believe the University education of the past is less desirable to employers and we need to update the way degree courses are taught. In 2018, I discovered an engineering company called ARM who became so disillusioned in the standard of applicants that they launched their own Education division to compensate. They had to accelerate the knowledge of their new Graduate recruits even though they came from Russell Group universities. These graduates were simply not good enough to enter the commercial engineering environment.

I started thinking that if I was to attend University to study now, I would want to hear lectures and experience from the ‘best of the best’ in whatever field I chose. So in Politics, I would want to hear from Barack Obama and Tony Blair about their rise to power, their challenges and achievements during their appointment, and their career and opportunities after being replaced. If I studied Economics, I would want to hear from Andrew Bailey, Governor of the Bank of England on Interest Rates and Monetary Policy and how they decide on both. For Engineering, I’d want to hear from the James Dyson Foundation how he invents his machines.

And so on… (you get the general idea).

Stanford Business School already host a public series of Podcasts by expert speakers in their field, mostly senior leaders in business. These enable students to improve their business knowledge through experts in commerce, who would not otherwise be available to learn from. In addition a local friend of mine created a series called Stories from Science and progressed really well until the coronavirus lockdown hit! The idea was to give scientists a forum to share their work, and to encourage up and coming scientists into pursuing a scientific career. Historically a Bookseller, he now runs which enables online ordering from independent bookshops, offering an alternative to Amazon maximising their revenue. The Stories from Science idea is echoed in the mission and aims of Morressier who publish research ideas from inception right through to impact and ongoing research. This organisation is rapidly growing as scientific conferences become increasingly online, and ensures that the idea is accredited to the right person (it replaces and compliments the old school Conference Proceedings publications within scholarly journals).

At a recent academic conference run by Kortext, I was shocked to find out that students generally aim for the minimum grades to pass their course, and rarely aim for the highest possible mark. Why invest in a University education if a student does not seek to excel? To compete in the employment market and repay accumulated debts, it seems contradictory that someone would invest so much in something they are not utilising to maximum value. Maybe students do not think in terms of competing with their peers in today’s employment culture. Talking to a Sixth Former recently, he also had an attitude of Student Debt not being relevant as it is waived after 20 years. Therefore it felt like the prospective debt incurred does not register… I find it very strange.

Having recently discovered Planet Normal, The Telegraph‘s opinion based podcast, the value of listening to validated expertise as a method of learning feels like a great option for the up and coming digital first generation of students. If I was in the shoes of a teenager now, I would be demanding the highest quality of teaching and expertise for my tuition fees. If there isn’t enough value add to a University Education and graduates emerge without sufficient skill to be employed, then surely questions should be asked about the higher education system we currently have.

Pulling together both trains of thought, I think there is a market for Universities wanting to improve their TEF score and offer premium Expert Lectures in various fields. I’m putting together a Business Model Canvas to explore the idea, scope a use case, and establish the value add to a University and their End Users. I’ll share it in the coming days and will leave you with this thought.

A digital first student needs a digital first knowledge landscape.

Unfortunately, neither research publishing nor academia offer a fluid enough user experience or perceived value to motivate our Youth to excel… Are we really looking to create a series of University Degrees that produce mediocre levels of skill? What would this mean for the thought leaders, innovators, and creators of the future? Will we end up with a dumbed down version of human achievement and fail to survive as a race? What will lowering attained skills mean for reversing climate change, humanity’s survival, and the future culture our children grow up in? I am trying not to despair…

Love Ruth x

Header photo by Rita Morais on Unsplash

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