Higher education in the 21st century: Making it relevant to the needs

It is justifiable to advocate that the creation of cadres of knowledge workers, as problem identifiers and problem solvers, is required to configure knowledge relevant to a wide range of contexts.This is a paradigm shift from knowledge production to knowledge configuration.

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The twenty-first century is the century of production of knowledge that promotes positive changes in every aspect of the globe in general, and that of each society in particular. Universities are supposed to produce and disseminate knowledge because research and training are not self-contained and cannot be carried out in institutional isolation. Universities are one of the knowledge producers, and there are many such producers in the world. Unless and until universities interact with other knowledge producers, they will not remain as successful as they envisage. The growth of newer technologies has been a big challenge to universities to cope with the greater demand of knowledge economy in the world. It is claimed that over 80 per cent of the knowledge produced globally is not produced where its use is required. Moreover, it is justifiable to advocate that the creation of cadres of knowledge workers, as problem identifiers and problem solvers, is required to configure knowledge relevant to a wide range of contexts. This can be considered as a paradigm shift from knowledge production to knowledge configuration.

University authorities, around the globe, think they have the control of knowledge and that is wrong. They have to be alert to the fact that they should always try to hunt intellectual resources that are around them. This way they will become able to hold and utilize relevant knowledge which is out of their full control. The era of the 21st century is an era of distributed knowledge, which is the reason why the university authorities should realize the fact that there is a much larger arena of experts of different kinds linked with them.

Until now the universities are concerned to produce scientists and experts as the individual’s specialized knowledge. This has made knowledge more personal than a social one. The vast arena of knowledge produced by ICT has not yet been the concern in many reputed traditional universities. This notion of personalized knowledge has been detrimental to using the knowledge for mass welfare. This further suggests the universities emphasize more on group creativity than an individual one. Many universities do not want to change the way they are running, this change resistant culture will lead us nowhere. The major role of the universities in a society is not only to develop knowledge-base of the domestic context, but they are equally responsible to contribute towards developing regional economy, promoting lifelong learning and creating a healthy civic culture. Hague (1991) says, “If the universities do not adapt, they will be by-passed.” This further suggests for the higher degree of flexibility in our higher education system. In a context where new cognitive and social practices are emerging, the conventional universities would be in dilemma if they do not accept change as their main agenda. Where are we in Nepal in this context then? This can be a very interesting question at a time when our university authorities are appointed not on the basis of their academic qualifications but recognized as fighters of tycoon political parties. These spineless authorities or the compradors never have demonstrated their capability of higher education leadership for the past several decades. And it is sad to say that the government never learnt lessons from the past, rather it is promoting the rotten culture of appointing the near and dear ones in authority positions of all universities in Nepal. More than 90 per cent of higher education classes run under pathetic situation where the teacher, sometimes, do not even get chalks to use in the classrooms let alone the ICT. The curricula of most of the universities are old. Neither our students will have an easy access to international knowledge world, nor will they be able to compete with the new emerging development in the global context, if the same condition persists. There are only exceptional cases when students themselves explore more knowledge on their own and set themselves fit in the external competition. No higher education institution can claim this credit for them.

In order to make our higher education relevant to the emerging new world our government should follow certain standards in the system. One, let the higher education institutions be free of partisan politics. Two, introduce standardized tests in each level whether it is the entrance test or end semester or year-end examinations. Three, employ competent professionals as professors without compromising their quality. Four, trust faculty members and provide full autonomy with accountability to them to develop curricula, design delivery mechanism and evaluation processes. Five, encourage teachers to change the curricula in their respective subjects when new knowledge appears in the market. Six, invest more on newer technologies and online learning. Seven, make university education research oriented associated with teaching. Eight, make strong monitoring and evaluation system to improve. Nine, make provisions for minimum standards of physical facilities, human resources and financial investments. And ten, stop affiliating outside institutions and concentrate on developing the university as a university. The list may go on.

source: Wagley, Mana Prasad (2012),"Higher education in the 21st century: Making it relevant to the needs", The Himalayan Times,10 Sept 2012

Dr. Wagley is an educationist

photo/art: The Himalayan Times

2012-09-11 | EducateNepal


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