This paper is based on the topic of university education. It is divided into two parts. The first part explores the evolving nature of university education and how universities fit in the knowledge economy. The second part is a reflection of my digital experiences as a Chinese student and how the experiences relate with my ability to fit in society and enhance my chances of being employed in the future. The paper draws from academic literature and other online resources. At the end is a conclusion which sums up the main arguments of the paper.
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Nature of University Education and the Knowledge Economy
The Evolving Nature of University Education
Since the time of Greek civilisation, education has been considered as a crucial asset by many societies. The reason is that it empowers people with knowledge, ideas, and skills for them to fit into society. Education may be formal or non-formal. Formal education is acquired through the school system, while non-formal education is acquired through experience. In many traditional societies, education was mostly non-formal (Spielvogel, 2010). However, since the emergence of western culture, formal education has gained popularity and has been institutionalised by almost all governments in the world (Srinivas & Kimmo 2008).
In many countries, the formal education sector is designed in a manner which enables learners to learn according to their age. During the tender ages, learners are introduced to simple concepts majorly on arithmetic and language. With the advancement in age, learners are introduced to complex concepts. In other words, formal education is incremental in the sense that new concepts are introduced after learners understand earlier concepts (Holland 2001). At the university level, learners usually go through a four-year course for their first degree, after which they proceed with their second and third degrees in their fields of interest.
Traditionally, universities played two key roles, namely teaching and research. These roles were aimed at generating knowledge for consumption by government institutions and industries. Universities were considered as clubs for the elite, and as such, they were isolated from society because they did not have any direct link with it. The isolation of universities from society made many people not to be interested in university education (Chatterton & Goddard 2000).
There was also no linkage between universities and the economies of countries. Actually, many universities were established by governments to do research on specific areas of interest to the governments. During those days, many economies were mainly based on agriculture and labour and as such, there was no demand for applied research. Instead, universities concentrated on fundamental research which was tailored to meet specific interests. The mode of learning in traditional universities was purely analogue, where students used books from the libraries in their universities. It was, therefore, mandatory for students to attend classes to avoid missing the lessons since there were no reliable means of sharing academic literature.
The roles of universities have changed with time. The changes have been occasioned by the realisation by governments and societies that universities have a potential of playing other significant roles in society apart from teaching and research. From the 1990s, there has been a significant increase in the number of universities and students. This increase is an indication that the demand for university education has gone up. Actually, some commentators have described universities as supermarkets which specialise in knowledge (Kelsey 2002).
There have also been changes in the economic and political climates across the globe. These changes have been brought about by the advancement in information and communication technology, improved transport systems, and liberalisation of immigration policies (Scholte 2005).
How Current Economic Climate Has Affected the Higher Education Experience
During the epoch of the industrial revolution, many economies mainly relied on agricultural and industrial production. However, from the 1960s, many countries abandoned these modes of economic production and adopted the knowledge-based economy. This shift has affected higher education experience in many ways. During the industrial revolution, universities played a marginal role in the economies of many countries. The reason is that university education was beyond the reach of many people. As mentioned earlier, universities were usually used by government institutions for pure research. Many people who studied during those times also had a tough time because they relied on books in libraries for their research. As a result, it took a lot of effort and dedication for students to complete their university education (Shizha & Kariwo 2012).
However, the adoption of the knowledge-based economy has completely changed the higher education experience. The reason is that universities have become a central pillar in economic transformation in many countries. Through research, universities have become the main drivers of many economies. It is worth noting that during the industrial revolution, there was an abundance of raw materials for agricultural and industrial production. However, due to the depletion of these raw materials, it has become almost impossible for governments to depend on agricultural and industrial production to develop their economies (Forest & Kinser 2002).
Many governments in the knowledge economy hold the view that with the talented and innovative workforce, they are able to overcome many challenges which are occasioned by the depletion of natural resources. For instance, many countries have exhausted their oil deposits, but the demand for energy has been on the increase. This situation poses a serious challenge to the governments of those countries. However, due to the presence of talented and innovative workforce from universities, such governments are advocating for electric-powered vehicles which do not depend on fossil fuel. The reason is that electricity has no effect on the environment like the fossil fuels which produce greenhouse gases (Punnett 2013).
The adoption of the knowledge-based economy has increased the demand for higher education due to the increased demand for creative and innovative employees. The increased demand for creative and innovative employees has led to an increase in the cost of higher education. It means that even though the demand for higher education has gone up, not many people are able to afford it (Clark 2008).
However, the advancement in information and communication technology has made things easy for university students. The reason is that many universities have come up with distant learning programs where students study at their homes. With distance learning, students only pay for tuition and examinations, and as a result, more people are able to acquire higher education than before (Rust, Portnoi & Bagley 2010).
The advancement in information and communication technology has also led to the emergence of online libraries where students get information on any topic. Consequently, many university students do not struggle to complete their degrees. However, the presence of online libraries has led to unethical academic practices such as plagiarism, which is the use of other people’s knowledge without acknowledgement. This practice was rare in traditional universities because it was not easy to access academic literature due to the absence of the internet (Barry 2012).
How Current Political Climate Has Affected the Higher Education Experience
The political climate has also changed with time. Before the World Wars, there was a restricted movement of people from one country to another. As a result, people only studied in universities in their home countries. People who studied during those times, therefore, did not experience cultural diversity in universities. However, after the World Wars, the political climate changed drastically due to abolishment of policies which restrained the movement of people across borders. As a result, many people are able to study in foreign countries. Through the liberalisation of immigration laws, the current higher education experience is characterised by cultural diversity because students are able to study in any university in the world. However, this cultural diversity in institutions of higher learning has led to increased strikes due to the presence of students from different cultural orientations (Nature.com: Higher education-the university experiment 2014).
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Globalisation is another force which has transformed economic and political relationships between nations of the world. It has made it possible for any person to be employed in any part of the world. Through it also, people are able to study, marry, and stay in any part of the world irrespective of their cultural orientation (Waters 2001). Globalisation has led to cultural diversity which refers to the static representation of several cultures in a place and at a particular time. Due to globalisation, today’s society is becoming culturally diverse day by day (Chrysanthopoulos 2010).
Globalisation has also led to the liberalisation of trade, the emergence of Multinational Corporations (MNCs) and global institutions such as International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and other institutions affiliated to the United Nations (Rodrik 2004). These institutions have been intensively involved in lobbying for an international order where race, ethnicity, culture, and religion do not act as barriers to social, political, and economic cooperation between nations of the world.
Culture has also been globalised through the new media which constitutes digital communication which enables users to exchange information in an interactive manner and in real-time. Examples of new media include the internet, websites, and social media such as twitter and Facebook. The new media has revolutionised the way people communicate and share information. For instance, people are able to exchange photographs, messages, and audio-visual content. These have reduced the perceived social distance between people (German centre for research and innovation: the changing role of the university in the 21st century 2012).
From 1950s backwards, many people were unable to meet the cost of university education. However, since 1960s, many governments especially in the developed world have increased the funding to public universities. The increased funding has enabled the public universities to sponsor many students to pursue various degree programs (Hodgson 2006). Many people have also developed interest in university education especially due to the benefits associated with being employed as a university graduate. In many cases, university graduates attract higher salaries than college graduates and as a result, many people have started viewing university education as an avenue to economic prosperity (Etzkowitz 2002).
The increased funding to public universities has also made university education to be internationalised because foreign students are able to get sponsorship to study various degree programs. The internationalisation of university education is also attributed to the rigorous campaigns by civil societies which have pushed governments to do away with policies which restrict the movement of people from one country to another. Such campaigns have led to the liberalisation of immigration policies which has enabled many people to study in foreign countries. The United States (US) is a good example of countries which have liberalised their immigration policies. As a result, it has become the home and destiny of many people seeking higher education opportunities (Etzkowitz & Leydesdorff 1999).
Globalisation goes hand in hand with the knowledge economy, which is based on various pillars such as intellectual capital, innovation, creativity, and invention. These pillars are considered as the driving forces of contemporary organisations. The knowledge economy is commonly adopted by the developed countries which have moved past the agricultural and industrial economies. With the knowledge economy, the focus is not only on material assets but also on non-material assets such as ideas, competences, knowledge, and culture. For instance, many organisations consider their experienced employees as assets which give them a competitive edge over their rivals (Kaplan 2014).
In the knowledge economy, universities play the role of empowering students with the necessary knowledge to become creative and innovative. Universities are also contracted by organisations to train employees on various aspects and empower them with skills which enhance their performance at the workplace. In other words, universities have been transformed into economic institutions in the sense that they not only play their traditional roles of teaching and research, but they also do consultations for governments and organisations. They also provide technical support to various organisations in different fields such as policy development, program design, and development of strategic plans. Further to that, universities undertake research on a range of social issues such as poverty, governance, education, and health (Samide 2011).
Reflection of My Digital Experiences
As mentioned in the first part, university education has evolved over time.Traditionally, many universities used traditional methods of teaching which were not flexible. However, the changes in information and communication technology have fully transformed the university education experience. It means that the experiences of university students three decades ago were completely different from those of university students today. The university students of today undergo through a completely digitised system of education while those who studied three decades ago underwent through a purely analogue system of education (Gunasekara 2004).
As a Chinese student, I can attest to the fact that university education has undergone through tremendous changes. One of the major changes in Chinese universities is the mode of teaching. Just like in many other countries, many universities in China have embraced digital learning. As a student, I have experienced the digital mode of learning which is mainly characterised by limited interaction between lecturers and students and unlimited interaction between students and the digital platform which comprises websites, online libraries, and live chats between students and lecturers.
Many students in Chinese universities do most of their learning activities online. However, there are days when students meet their lecturers for briefings. During such briefings, the students ask questions to their lecturers and get clarifications. Students also chat with fellow students on Facebook or twitter. During such online conversations, they consult each other on various academic topics. When they come across topics which cannot be discussed online, they usually organise group discussions where they meet for a couple of hours and deliberate on such topics (Wang 2010).
In the university where I study, the lecturers usually send us some reading materials through our email addresses, after which we download them to our personal computers. We also print hard copies to read when we are not able to use our computers due to various reasons. Most of the university’s business is conducted online. For instance, the university does not accept cash or cheques for fees. Instead, it provides us with an account number where we pay the fees through banks. The banks then transfer the fees electronically to the university’s bank account and issue us with electronically generated receipts.
The registration of students is also done online. The university has an online portal where we register our details including the courses that we take each semester. During the coursework, the lecturers usually send us continuous assessment tests and assignments through the online portal and it is a requirement for us to submit them online after completion. Once we submit the tests and assignments, they are marked and the marks are posted on the online portal where we sign in using personalised passwords and check them. As students, we also apply for accommodation in the university through an online system (Marginson & Kaur 2011).
Even though our university has a library, many students do not read the books in that library. Instead, they sign in to the university’s online library and access the reading materials at their convenience. In most cases therefore, the university’s library is utilised by the elderly students who are fewer than the young students. The university has also provided free internet connection to the students through a local area network. Through the network, the students are able to access reading materials from various online resources and as a result, learning becomes an enjoyable experience. However, the university has blocked all sites which are not related to academics.
These digital experiences have both positive and negative effects on my future social and employment life. In regard to my future social life, the positive effect of the digital experiences is that they have enabled me to understand how various digital systems work. For instance, I am able to meet and make new friends on social media such as Facebook or twitter. I am also able to trace my friends who we schooled together at junior levels as well as family members who I do not have their contacts. The ability to chat with friends online is useful because it enables me to express my deep thoughts and feelings to my friends, something which I may not be able to do without the social media platform.
The negative effect of the digital experiences on my social life is that they deprive me of the opportunity to know how to socialise with friends. The reason is that I meet and chat with most of my friends online and as a result, I lack the skills to establish and sustain social relationships without using the social media platform. The other negative effect is that the digital experiences have compromised my communication skills. The reason is that the digital experiences majorly involve non-verbal communication which deprives me of the opportunity to express myself verbally.
In regard to my future employment life, the positive effect of these digital experiences is that I am able to look for jobs online since many organisations today do their recruitment using online systems. The negative effect of the digital experiences regarding my future employment life is that I lack crucial interpersonal skills which are essential at the workplace. The reason is that the digital experiences have exposed me to limited face-to- face interaction with friends and unlimited interaction with them on the social media.
In regard to how the digital experiences have prepared me to fit in the knowledge economy, I am of the view that they have adequately prepared me to be compatible with the needs of the knowledge economy. The reason is that the knowledge economy is based on information and communication technology, cultural diversity, flexibility, and a learning culture. As a student, I fit in the knowledge economy because I have been exposed to a mode of learning which encourages reliance on oneself. For instance, I have the ability to do research on any topic which is of interest to me.
In the knowledge economy, organisations are characterised by a learning culture. As a result, they are not only interested in academic qualification, but also in people who have the passion to learn new concepts and apply them in the workplace. Organisations in the knowledge economy are also interested in people who are responsible and able to work without supervision and deliver good results on time.
The digital experiences have transformed me from a naive student to a responsible learner with the ability to coordinate personal affairs. I am therefore compatible with the knowledge economy and I hope that the digital experiences will enable me to coexist well with my fellow employees in the future. For instance, the learning experiences have exposed me to group work where we have been holding discussions with my fellow students. Through the discussions, we have been able to find solutions to various academic and social problems. I believe that such experiences are crucial assets to my future employers. Since many organisations in the knowledge economy rely on self-managing teams, I will have no challenge in fitting in such teams.
Through globalisation, today’s world is more connected than before. Globalisation has however come with its threats and opportunities. For instance, through globalisation and cultural diversity, people are able to get job opportunities in any part of the world. The reason is that the knowledge economy is based on talent, skill, and expertise but not on ethnicity, race, or religion. What the employers are looking for is the potential of the employees to transform organisations from dormant to vibrant entities with a global appeal. Even though I am a Chinese student, once I complete my studies, I will have what it takes to work in any part of the world.
With the advent of globalisation and advancement in information and communication technology, MNCs are able to do business in different parts of the globe. As a result, there have emerged global virtual teams. These teams are composed of people who work for the same organisation but in different countries with different cultural backgrounds and time zones. The members of global virtual teams rarely meet face-to-face but interact frequently using various modes of communication such as email, short messages, and video conferencing.
The presence of virtual employment is an opportunity for graduates to enter the job market without straining. At the same time, working in global virtual teams enables employees to utilise their time well. Since the members of global virtual teams do not meet physically, they are able to engage in more than one job at any given time. The reason is that virtual employment comprises specific tasks which are accomplished within a certain period of time. As long as the employees are able to complete their assignments within the stipulated time, the employers are less concerned with what the employees do after the completion of the tasks assigned to them. This kind of employer-employee relationship is not only healthy for them, but also for the economy of a country because many employees are able to utilise their time efficiently and effectively. This situation is the reverse of conventional mode of employment where an employee may only work for a single employer at any given time.
The connected world poses various threats at the international, national, and individual levels. At the individual level, the connected world poses the threat of not allowing expatriate employees to give back to their communities at home. In my case for example, once I complete my studies, I may get a job opportunity in another country. In such a case, I would not get the opportunity to give back to the community where I was brought up in. That job opportunity would also detach me from my family by increasing the social distance between us. To some extent therefore, I would miss the intrinsic value of work. This type of challenge makes many graduates to be selective in their search for job opportunities where they prefer job opportunities in their home countries to those in other countries. As a result, majority of graduates end up taking poorly paying jobs which are not commensurate with their training and education.
I am of the view that the university experiences have prepared me for the connected world since I have been exposed to what it takes to fit in the knowledge economy. I consider myself as a product of a digital system of education and as such, I am ready to be absorbed in the knowledge economy.
It is only possible to be prepared for the knowledge economy through the formal education system. The reason is that non-formal education does not expose students to formal skills which are essential in the knowledge economy. Digital literacy is therefore a fundamental part of higher education because without it, it is not possible for one to acquire higher education.
Traditionally, universities played two major roles namely teaching and research. They were also reserved for the elite because there was no direct link between them and society. However, with the emergence of the knowledge economy, universities have become a central pillar in economic growth through provision of academic entrepreneurship, research, and consulting services. The experiences of university students have changed drastically especially due to the digitisation of education in line with the knowledge economy. As a student in a Chinese university, I have been equipped with the necessary digital experiences which would enable me to fit well not only in the knowledge economy but also in the global society. Digital literacy is therefore important for students to pursue higher education and get employed in the knowledge economy. However, the connected world poses the threat of detaching people from their families and friends due to availability of job opportunities in foreign countries.
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