With Janine at the Life Groenkloof hospital in Pretoria, I have been spending about four hours a day in my BMW. The time has not been wasted. The time has been used to envisage the future and to question why things are performed in the current manner. Trapped within my car with me, Alesha has been forced to endure my thought processes and speculative rantings.
Amongst the topics discussed have been whether the university degree in its current format was dead, the future of the car radio & modern forms of electricity generation.
Pictures: All of the pictures in this blog do not relate to the topics addressed but rather they reflect the wonder and beauty of nature
What is the value of the University Degree in the future?
I contend that the current tertiary education model is broken for multiple reasons. It does not serve the needs of the students, employers nor the long term needs of the employee. As such, it needs to be completely rethought.
“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”
― W.B. Yeats
According to reports, there are 800,000 students in South Africa in some form of tertiary education. The total cost of providing this service is between R 54 billion & R 80 billion per annum. That depends upon whether one costs it narrowly – tuition only – or more widely to include accommodation et al. Even if South Africa could afford this level of expenditure on free education, will the country be receiving the biggest bang for their buck?
The first issue is the degree’s relevance now & in the future. With predictions that the retirement age will be extended to 70 years over the next decade or two, where does that leave the long-term relevance of a degree earned solely at the commencement of one’s adult life?
The current tertiary education model is based upon a few years of study post matriculation and then no more. Secondly, current job structures are too inflexible to allow career changes in mid life. Yet surely, with working spans becoming longer, one cannot expect employees to peak in their careers by age 40 and then to perform essentially the same job for the next 30 years until they turn 70.
The human brain is not designed for long-term stagnation & repetition. Nor are the types of jobs.
Relevance of the degree
In certain disciplines, it is highly relevant that a person possesses as wide and as in-depth knowledge as possible. If Dr Zondagh had failed the course on diseases & disease control, would Janine have trusted him to perform her vertebrectomy. What if he had bunked lectures on ENT? Of course not. This logic could also apply to courses such as architecture and engineering but does it apply to BComms and BAs?
Take myself. I have a CA(SA). In my first year, amongst the courses that I studied were Economics 1, Bedryfsekonomie 1 – it was a bi-lingual university – Maths for Accountants 1. In essence, all three of these courses were a waste of time. In year 2, we studied Computer Science 1, which amounted to programming in Fortran & Cobol, Handelsreg 1 & Maatskapy Reg 1. Perhaps the two law subjects were of some use but the computer course was a complete waste of time.
In practice over a career spanning 40 years, little of what I learned and for which I spent six years of my life was largely a waste of time. The real reason for my dismissive attitude is that the course did not largely prepare me for my work life. The practical courses such as Accounting, Tax and Costing were extremely important in my future career but the rest were a waste of time.
These irrelevant courses could have been substituted with the following practical courses:
- The role of the Financial Manager / Director
- Managing the Treasury function – forex, loans etc
- The role and utility of Computers including courses on Excel, Word, Power Point, Access & ERP systems
- Managing staff, leadership, management, negotiating skills et cetera
Let us take my children as an example. In spite of being bright, my son hated school and barely scrapped through matric. After school, he took a very basic course on Graphic Design. Soon afterwards he had started his own company, which meant making pitches to companies and individuals.
Eventually he obtained a job in a Telecoms/IT company & is thriving. On the side, he is involved in a separate venture with three other business partners.
On the other hand, my daughter took the traditional route of obtaining a BComm degree in Accounting. After 2 years of working at Standard Bank, she resigned, as she hated the working conditions. For 3 years, she has been unemployed both due to the recession and no doubt due to not meeting BEE requirements. Will she ever get a job? Maybe but possibly never. Will she ever start her own company? No never.
What are the key ingredients required to thrive in the new economy? Most are not obtained by studying for a degree.
I might be extremely dismissive and disdainful of SABC’s resident clown, Hlaudi Motsoeneng and his abilities, but he made an insightful comment at a News Conference at SABC last week. According to him, most people with degrees would rather retreat from difficult or intractable problems, whereas he would be drawn towards the problem in order to resolve it, no matter how punishing.
Cowardice is often displayed by managers in times of crisis. Rather than grappling with the problem, they will let it fester rather than address it head-on.
The attributes required to succeed in business are tenacity, leadership, integrity, innovative thinking, negotiating skills amongst others. Yet how do we rate managers? Whether they hold an MBA, a CA or another tertiary qualification.
We all know people with a string of degrees but who are useless in a business environment due to the lack of these attributes.
Is the current model of huge university campuses still relevant in the internet age? Shouldn’t most of the lectures be online where students work at their own pace? Finally instead of education being a once in a lifetime event, it should be an ongoing continuous journey throughout one’s life.
Take the case of my previous skin specialist. At the age of 50, he was thoroughly bored with life. He might have spent 8 years studying but now he was removing moles from 8am to 17:00 every day. The same applies to teachers, nurses, accountants, auditors, truck drivers.
Perhaps certain jobs such as teaching and nursing should be reserved for the under 45s at which point they will have to choose a new career path.
Humankind has not even commenced the dialog on the transformations required to transition work and society into a model of continuous learning & multiple disparate careers.
The one model could replicate the Japanese industrial model whereby one commences one’s career as a traditional employee and then later in life one becomes part of a subcontractor to one’s previous employer.
Lastly, what will the fate of the mega-factory be in an age of 3D Manufacturing? The requirement for managers with management and accounting degrees will shrink whereas practical business acumen will predominate.
The university degree is dead
Dion Chang, founder of Flux Trends, is much more radical in his views. He espouses the mantra that the university degree is dead.
He advances the following five reasons for saying so:
- In terms of scarcity, degrees have become more common, therefore less valuable in economic terms.
- Degrees cost more today, but are worth less. The debt repayments versus future income equation simply do not add up.
- Modern businesses do not consider degrees essential anymore (last year accountancy firm EY announced in London that it will no longer consider degree or A-level results when assessing potential employees).
- The new HR mantra of “hire for attitude and retrain for skills” (this puts into question the link between tertiary education and what the changing job market requires).
- The growing divide between “legacy companies” and new, agile “responsive companies”. Legacy HR models tend to value “managers” – people with graduate degrees from prestigious business schools. In a “responsive company” the emphasis on people is all about making and learning. “Makers” are people who have skills – as opposed to credentials. They think by doing: experimenting, testing, and learning.
The car radio
So far most of the electronic appliances have undergone a revolution – the cellphone, the computer, the music player – mainly due to Steve Jobs. Yet a few have not experienced this radical change.
It is a matter of time.
Various companies are working on the future watch but none has obtained traction. Instead they are expensive toys at best with short battery life.
There is another piece of equipment, which has not, as yet, been subjected to the Jobs make-over: the car radio.
In form, function and content, the current car radio is outdated and needs to be cast in the dustbin together with DOS, VisiCalc and values.
Firstly, the CD player functionality needs to be removed with immediate effect as the day of the disk is long gone.
Secondly content. The radio should facilitate the use of non-radio station content such as streaming, connection from iPods or music stored on a hard drive within the radio. This would allow one to record radio stations and, much like DSTV, and listen to the program offline. For instance, in my case, I would listen to The Money Show on 702 Talk Radio at my convenience and not at 6pm.
Radio stations playing music will be moribund within a few years. With unlimited choice available through streaming, who would want to listen to a specific station where at best one enjoys 50% of the music? The future is all about choice and options where one is unchained from a government’s or the station manager’s tastes and selections.
The future of power plants
Consider this statistic. Every hour of the day, the sun is bathing the earth in sufficient energy to power the world’s economy for a year. Yet, greater than 99% is never used.
Currently solar plants are being constructed in areas where the percentage of sunlight hours is maximised such as in the Northern Cape.
What about the massive freeway network from Joburg to Pretoria? This road could be covered with a “roof” of solar panels. However, cheaper solutions are currently on the horizon. Currently under development is a flexible, lightweight fabric that can harvest energy from the sun. The one proposed use of this fabric would be to convert one’s clothing into a personal solar panel in order to power personal appliances such as iPods and cellphones.
But what about other uses?
Instead of huge massive structures bearing solar panels across the highway to support the panels, a light-weight frame would suffice.
A team of researchers in China has claimed that they have developed a fabric manufactured from cotton and two advanced electronic fibres. While one fibre generates power from sunlight, the other, called a “fibre supercapacitor,” stores the electrons and provides current, like a battery.
Furthermore the scientists claim that their fibre can withstand the bending, twisting, and wrapping normal to industrial weaving, a critical area in smart-fabrics research. Fixing rips in the fabric is not as easy as ironing on a new patch—connecting a new swatch into a garment represents a “delicate sewing process,” according to the new study.
The material has been tested at light intensities between 70 percent and 120 percent of the sun’s average, and works in natural and artificial light.
With this material being light-weight and able to be rolled up like any other fabric, the installation of these solar “panels” would so easy that the normal non-DIY inclined person would be able to lay them on their house’s roof thus freeing ever more people from a gigantic monolithic grid.