The Key Bridge to Graduate Employability

The Key Bridge to Graduate Employability

In this interview segment from the Melbourne EdTech Summit 2020, Tim Dodd of The Australian speaks with Professor Kenneth Henderson of Northeastern University on some key topics relating to higher education and graduate employability.

Tim Dodd, Higher Education Editor at The Australian, sits down with Professor Kenneth Henderson, Chancellor of Northeastern University in Boston to discuss innovative degree programs, gaining work experience as a student, and ensuring graduate employability.

Highlights of their discussion and a full transcript follow below:

Northeastern University’s Co-op Program

As Chancellor of Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, Professor Kenneth Henderson is deeply involved in the university’s Experiential Learning program. Professor Henderson begins the conversation by introducing the university’s flagship program:

  • Typical Bachelor’s Degree programs at Northeastern University include 18 months of Experiential Learning, which is similar to a paid internship in the student’s area of study.
  • Northeastern has been running this program for over 100 years and has built an extensive network of businesses that are eager to take on students from the program.
  • Since students spend such extensive time in the workforce, faculty at Northeastern must stay very up-to-date in the industry they teach to.

Students graduating from Northeastern have the great advantage of leaving university with, not only a degree, but with 18 months of practical experience in their field of choice and a sizable network of men and women in the industry.

“The faculty really have to be at the bleeding edge all the time of what is out there and all the course materials. At least that’s a really interesting, rigorous type of education, really outwardly focused, which I think is unusual.”
Professor Kenneth Henderson, Northeastern University
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Northeastern’s transformation

Professor Henderson explains that Northeastern has not always been a hub of Experiential Learning in the United States. It has really only been in recent decades that it has made significant strides forward to distinguish itself in this space.

  • Over the past 30 years, Northeastern transitioned itself from a commuter school into a highly research-active university with over 180 million dollars of annual research funding.
  • The university is highly selective, accepting only 3,000 applications annually out of over 64,000 submitted, with 18% of its undergraduate population coming from abroad.
  • Over 90% of graduates are employed in the field of their choice within the year after graduating.
“The transformation from being a commuter access school to being what is an elite, private, large research institution was really powered by Experiential Learning. That was the fuel that pushed the university forward.”
Professor Kenneth Henderson, Northeastern University

Benefits to student, university, and industry

The program’s beginnings lie in the financial model of the school, in which Northeastern University would help undergraduates search for work to help pay for tuition. It has since grown into a full-fledged program that not only supports the university, pays for students’ tuition, but also benefits many industries.

  • Around 50% of students receive job offers from the business they have completed their co-op program with.
  • Companies value Northeastern’s student population so much that for every student at Northeastern there are twice as many job openings.
  • More than 90% of Experiential Learning job placements are paid positions.

 

“The companies see this as a value, not only that they’re getting talented young people working, and if it’s a flexible resource for them, but also that it’s a talent acquisition pipeline for them.”
Professor Kenneth Henderson, Northeastern University

Technology and apps in Experiential Learning

The self-authored integrated learning (SAIL) app acts as a bridge between students’ coursework and the work they are doing during their Experiential Learning program. The app enables students to reflect on their work and see how it ties-in with the information they are studying in the classroom.

  • Through Practera, Northeastern has been able to continue matching students with work opportunities even during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Northeastern has even used the application to extend work opportunities to high school students in the Boston area.
  • Alongside Practera, Northeastern University is opening up the ability for employees, in their daily work, to be mentored, educated, and credited for on-the-job learning.

Professor Henderson is excited for the future possibilities that these applications allow, and sees this model of learning as a mainstay in the future, even after COVID-19 has passed.

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Expanding outside of Boston

Professor Henderson sees a very real possibility of replicating this model nation-wide and even beyond in the future.

  • Northeastern, along with a grant from David Rue, has extended the Experiential Learning program into Portland, Maine.
  • Northeastern and Rue have funneled talent and industry into the otherwise small and agricultural town in New England, and have sent a pioneering class of 50 undergraduates to complete their Experiential Learning there.
  • The program is showing signs of success, with more industries, individuals, and money coming to the area at a rapid pace.
  • In this case, everyone wins. The students get Experiential Learning and access to the industry, Northeastern University can expand its flagship program, the industry gets to set up in a new and affordable location, and the town itself sees an enormous influx of talent and capital.

The future of education in the US and Northeastern

Professor Henderson says that the current model of education in the United States is very expensive and Northeastern is looking closely at mechanisms by which to enable students to study without burdening themselves with debt.

  • Northeastern has just released a fully online first semester curriculum which is applicable across all academic majors.
  • Higher education in the future will follow a lifelong, unbundled, stackable format.
  • Establishing a lifelong network will be key, incorporating not only alumni associations, but corporate networks, and current students.
“We are now looking at ways, including using technology, in order to actually combine these together so that career design, and your corporate learning experience, and your alumni engagement is actually a single thing.”
Professor Kenneth Henderson, Northeastern University

Full Transcript

David:

That’s a great introduction to Northeastern, a University in Boston, Massachusetts, which is a global research university that has a distinct experiential approach to education. They navigate traditional classroom study with opportunities for professional work, research, service, and global learning, all combined. Drawing on Northeastern’s model, this session will focus on the impact of this approach to student employability. The moderators today, we’re very lucky to have Tim Dodd, The Australian’s Higher Education Editor. Tim has over 25 years experience as a journalist, covering a wide variety of areas of public policy, economics, politics, and foreign policy, including higher education. So I’ll hand it over to you, Tim, to introduce Kenneth Henderson.

Tim:

Thank you, Tim. Good morning, David, and good morning, everyone. Great to be here with you. Now it’s going to be really interesting to hear this morning from Kenneth Henderson because he is the Chancellor of Northeastern University, which has a model which is not very much used in higher education, which is that every student there has an experiential learning experience. So we are going to hear from Kenneth and learn how this had developed at Northeastern and then go a bit deeper into what that means for education in the future.

Before we get started, I should just note that this is a very important conversation for Australia at the moment, as the higher education reforms which are currently in the federal parliament do have incentives for universities to engage in more experiential learning, more work integrated learning, so it’s a very interesting thing for us to be hearing about now.

Good morning, Kenneth. I know it’s not morning there where you are, but thank you for being with us, and please just give us an introduction to Northeastern and how it came to be such a powerhouse in experiential learning.

Kenneth:

Well I’ll say good morning. I’ll be in your time zone, but as you can see from behind me and Boston, Massachusetts, it’s actually nighttime. But I’m absolutely delighted to be here, and very much appreciate the ability to share a little bit about Northeastern University.

The university is really unusual, and certainly within the context of North America. It’s an Experiential Learning university. What that means is it’s learning by doing. So we have classroom instruction, but the signature piece of the university is what we call co-op or cooperative education. And the piece that’s really powered the university over the last few decades has been a model where we place students for six months, and industry, and not-for-profit organisations, and government, and start-up companies have a full six-month experience in that organisation, and then they rotate back into the university. Something like 97 percent of our learners take those opportunities. Almost everyone does one of those. Most students do two or three of those co-ops, so actually by the time they leave, and they’re graduated, they can have up to 18 months of real world work experience. What I like to say is that it’s not so much just the experience of being in industry or being in a research lab that really matters here. The quality of the experience matters. So we have a dedicated workforce in the university. We’ve actually built the university, even the calendar, around these six month experiences. We’ve got a history of actually running cooperative education for over 100 years, so we have a really deep and wide network at this point of over 3,000 corporate partners that we work with every year in order to provide these opportunities. This feedback loop between what is actually happening in the outside world, those learners rotating back into the classroom and interacting with their peers and with faculty, and them doing that on multiple occasions really leads to this very interesting mixture of what’s happening out there now, what’s the most exciting thing that’s out there now, and as an educator myself I can tell you it means that you don’t get the grass growing below your feet.

The students will tell you if you’re giving a lecture on Separation Science that, and I’m a Chemist, and you’re talking about technology that’s 10 years old then, well, if a student has just rotated back from a co-op and a Separation Science, and they’re using cutting edge technology then they’ll let you know about it. It means that the faculty really have to be at the bleeding edge all the time of what is out there and all the course materials. At least that’s a really interesting, rigorous type of education, really outwardly focused, which I think is unusual.

Something I’ll just say about the university to give you a little bit of context is that it’s around 30,000 learners. It’s in downtown Boston. It transformed itself dramatically from being what was basically a commuter school around 30 years ago, and certainly over the last 10 to 20 years, into becoming a highly research-active university, over 180 million dollars of research funding at the university, and then also one that became extremely selective. We had over 64,000 applications for about just under 3,000 entry positions for our undergraduate program, and we pull learners from across the planet. Around 18 percent of our undergraduate population are international students, and that transformation from being a commuter access school to being what is an elite, private, large research institution was really powered by Experiential Learning. That was the fuel that pushed the university forward. That’s what drove the learners in, because what they saw was a value proposition. The outcome here is that students get jobs or they get to graduate schools of their choosing. So something like over 90 percent of our learners are employed after graduation in the area that they have graduated from, be that theatre music or computer science or civil engineering. It’s an interesting mixture of learning in the real world and learning in the classroom.

Tim:

When you sit beside Harvard and MIT it obviously might be hard to make your mark. But clearly you have. How do you engage employers in this? How do you find enough places to put thousands of students every year?

Kenneth:

We do have a long history with this. Back in the day this was actually the financial model for the university. So what we would do is we would help to find short-term jobs for students so that they could go learn. They could go earn money, get tuition, and then come back, either in day school or even at night school. We would facilitate that, and our smart forefathers figured out that there’s actually something to this. These students are learning something from this, and this is where experiential learning really took off at the university. The learning science started to take over, and it was like, “How can we use this model to something that’s really adding value?” So we had long-term relationships with many companies in order to place students, in order to get positions, but what very quickly happened was that once the employer saw that, then he said, “Wait a second. This is basically a talent acquisition program for us.” So we call this a six month job interview. Students go out, they work with employers, and then around 50 of our students get job offers from their co-op employers. So the companies see this as a value, not only that they’re getting talented young people working, and if it’s a flexible resource for them, but also that it’s a talent acquisition pipeline for them. That’s a virtuous cycle that’s set up because now, what happened in a very short period of time, literally single digit years, and it really rocketed up the quality of student that was applying into the program, but also the quality of placement where our students would go.

In order for companies to compete with one another, you’d have to make the positions more, and more, and more attractive. So Tim, to answer your question, we actually have around one student for every two job placements available. So we have more jobs available when we have students. We’re in a very fortunate position, and it’s simply because we all realise that we live in a talent economy and we have very talented students.

Tim:

Do employers pay the students for the work that they are carrying out in their experiential placements?

Kenneth:

Yeah. So almost all of the placements, and these industrial placements or not-for-profits, are paid. There’s a small number that are unpaid. Those tend to be more in the not-for-profit world or if they’re international, so we do send our students across all continents, including Antarctica. And some of those international ones, because of visa restrictions and work permits, are unpaid. We do supply those students with some small stipend or fellowship from the university to enable them, if they so need it. But the vast majority, and that covers, I want to emphasise this point, this cover is fully comprehensive. This is not just a STEM initiative. This is everything from mathematics, to music, to history, where we place people with placements which are associated with their area of interest. The vast majority of them, well above 90 percent, are paid and the companies need to do that, otherwise they won’t compete for the talent.

Tim:

Sure, and how do you integrate what students are learning in the placements into what they’re learning in the classroom?

Kenneth:

That has evolved dramatically over the last decade. Technology is a big piece of this. We do use humans and technology together. A piece of technology that we use is a self-developed program, or app and platform that we’ve developed, called “self-authored integrated learning” or SAIL. What this SAIL app does is it is a reflective learning tool, which is at the core of reflective light experiential learning. It is actually reflecting on the learning that you’re doing in the moment, and afterwards, in order to really, truly learn that material or skill. The SAIL application is something that enables a learner to do that. We have five attributes, things like wellness or creativity, and quantitative analysis, where a student will actually assess the learning, and they can have that prescribed. So if you take a course that will have pre-prescribed learning goals and outcomes, which will then be fed into this app, they can also be a student who is on co-op, or if they are captain of the soccer team, I should say football, if they’re taking an art class, or whatever it may be, outside of the curriculum, they can actually then assign themselves attributes in terms of: “Is this a global experience? Is this something that is associated with wellness?” And basically they’re building up an entire picture of their learning portfolio, sort of like a 360-view of where their strengths are, and also other areas they need to build out.

So part of the co-op uses this reflective learning tool. I’m happy to talk about that in more detail, and it’s got other components to it. Another piece is that we work with humans. So we actually have what we call “Core Faculty Members”, and they work with the student before they go on placement, and also when they’re on placement, and when they return from that experience, in order that they’re continually reflecting on that experience. So it’s not turn up, do your 9-to-5, come home. You’re getting paid a check and you’re done. It’s constantly pushing what you are learning, how can you learn more, how much can you get out of this experience. It really is a partnership between the educators, the university, and the company. So we work together to ensure that this is a learning environment for the student. It’s not just work for the sake of a company getting some product out the door. It really has to be an engaging learning experience. 

Tim:

You’re working with the technology, which Practera has in this area, aren’t you? So that’s an Australian connection for you.

Kenneth:

We’re actually investors in Practera, and we’re very proud of that. I know they’re sponsors of this conference. I’m very happy with that, and you may ask yourself, “What’s an American university doing investing in an Australian EdTech?” It comes down to this. Practera really matches perfectly what we do as an educational organisation, and in fact, even in the short time that we’ve engaged with criteria, we’ve already launched matches or lifelong learning, and they’ve worked over the summer to engage students, high school students in the Boston region, in order to do internships. You can imagine this has been a challenging summer for students to find that type of work possibility. Practera enabled us to do that remotely. They have also helped us to carry out an award with the National Science Foundation where it’s called IUS, where we work with Practera in order to enable Experiential Learning with other state schools or state schools or private and community colleges to enable learning design in classrooms.

Most excitingly to me is a platform that enables learning in the flow of work for our corporate learners. That’s a population that we’re really excited about working with, and in this way we’re working with Practera in order that employees and companies, in their daily work, can basically be credited in a mentored, curated environment in order for those skills and experiences to go towards either a stackable certificate or a degree, some learning outcome. Practera is a fantastic platform for that. So this is the beginning of what we think is going to be a really exciting collaboration, and we just launched about a year ago, just about now. So that’s an EdTech company that we very much like investing in, and see a great future for moving forward.

Tim:

Let’s have a look at a few of the questions that are coming up in the chat. There is one here that says, “Are there certain fields of interest that you can see that students lean towards or away from in Experiential Learning?”

Kenneth:

I would say I’m surprised. I’m a chemist, as I said, by training. I would have bet that students would be leaning more towards the STEM disciplines than I would have expected. What we are finding is the students, if they have the opportunity to combine skills together, or areas of interest together, they flock towards that. So the humanities, social sciences, if they’re on their own just as a traditional major, then they’re not doing so well. Similarly if it’s design on its own, or art on its own, not so well. What we’re finding that’s becoming a huge growth area are what we call combined majors. These are not dual majors, where you take two degrees in parallel, but actually combine majors. We take a component of one major, a component of a second major, integration courses in between the two majors, and those have become huge growth areas for us. We now have over 160 of those that we’ve developed over the last five or six years, and these combined areas, such as, say, Psychology and Marketing, or Music and Mathematics, or Computer Science and Physics have become extremely popular. They didn’t exist seven and eight years ago, and now we’re finding that, from our incoming class, around 20 to 25 percent of the incoming class are actually choosing to go into these combined majors. And the big winners are the Social Sciences and Humanities.

Students are interested in those. It’s interesting. They’re very interested in those areas, and then we’re also seeing that from our corporate partners, that, just as your previous speaker, Michael, talked about, these areas of creativity, entrepreneurship, and innovation are areas that are intrinsically human. Those are areas that, if you combine those with technical skills and more traditional STEM disciplines, that’s a powerful combination.

Tim:

Let’s look at some more questions on the chat. There is one here that says, “Look, do students get some sort of badge from their placements which they can use in their portfolio, and are they paying for the placement even though they’re being paid? Is there a cost that is incurred either by them or by you as a university?” and “Aren’t they awarded any credit for the placement?”

Kenneth:

In terms of cost, they don’t pay. They’re still full-time students, and so they have access to university facilities, the library, etc. during that period of time. They are all over the world, so many in Massachusetts, but again everywhere. So they don’t pay anything during that period of time. They don’t pay the university tuition. Maybe that’s the easiest way of putting it. There’s no tuition payment during that period of time. They get paid by the company, and many students are actually earning significant amounts of money during that period of time, and they use that to offset tuition moving forward. They don’t pay. It’s a service that we provide for the students, which, again, is something that attracts a student through the door in the first place in terms of credit.

At present we don’t credit the students for co-op. That’s something we’re taking a really close look at because, I’ll just be frank, we’re a learning organisation. We are working in the B2B space in a significant way. Practera is a great partner for us in that space. So why would we not give students credit for learning while they’re actually out in the working world, as long as it’s a curated and mentored experience with appropriate learning goals? That’s actually one of the projects they’re working on now, is how do we best do this in order to give credit for placements, and during that period of time? That’s probably something we’re moving towards.

Tim:

Here’s another query off the chat: “Does the fact that students are spending time on the experimental learning part of it make their degree longer?”

Kenneth:

That’s a good question. It can. It doesn’t have to. As I mentioned earlier on, we actually build our entire calendar around these placements so that they’re six months long, and they basically run from January until July, and then July into December. We have two summer terms of six weeks, and those summer terms are very heavily populated with classes, much more than you would see in a a university in North America, and that’s because many of our students will use those six week blocks to take a couple more classes in order to stay on track for graduation if they want to. That’s an important feature.

The other feature is that we do allow students to take coursework if they are on co-op. That, again, is part of the platform and will allow digital remote education. If they want to do that, that again keeps our credit account up. So if they want to, they can absolutely graduate in a regular clock.

We actually accept a significant amount of prior work for students coming into the university, and that, again, sort of accelerates them towards upper upper level courses that are more interesting to them, but also cuts down on the credit count that they need to do when we’re actually in the university.

Tim:

Here’s one more question: “Is this something like an apprenticeship model? Are we rebuilding something here which used to exist everywhere once?”

Kenneth:

In traditional terms it is like a six month interview, and of course it’s a joint interview. The learner is interviewing the company, as well as the company is interviewing the student. The apprenticeship model is a little more that you are working with this company until you get your degree or certificate. That said, we’re actually launching an apprenticeship program this fall in the UK. So we do have multiple campuses in the US, and also two in Canada, one in Vancouver or in Toronto, and we have campuses in North America in Charlotte, in Seattle, San Francisco, Silicon Valley, and also in a couple of other places in North America. Then we have a campus in the UK as a university that we actually acquired, and in the UK we actually have a full blown apprenticeship model. So, in that case, we actually have learners who are undergraduates and usually high school leavers who are going in and working with a company.

Then we’re partnering with a company called ServiceNow, which is a digital technology company, and we are providing remote learning, some hybrid learning, for those students. Although they can progress all the way up to Master’s degrees, and so we actually have engaged in what I would say is a non-traditional apprenticeship program. We’re engaged in that as well. We do think apprenticeships, and if you like let’s call it co-op to work programs, that’s probably part of the future where there’s a guarantee for the learner to actually be placed in a company at the end, they may pay some amount of tuition for that learner and then they go and rotate into the company at the end of that period of time. That’s another model that we are playing with right now. We think that’s probably part of the future.

Tim:

It’s interesting that you are spreading this model into other locations, as that builds into my next question which is: you’re in the Boston area. There’s a lot of high-tech firms there, a lot of startups. It’s probably relatively easy to find placements for students who are working in new technology areas and in the future work of the 21st century. But how easy would it be to spread this model nationwide where the nature of work is still very different?

Kenneth:

Let me give you an example. So, we just opened the campus in Portland, Maine. Portland, Maine is around two hours north of where Boston is. It’s a relatively small town. Maine is actually very lightly populated. Its economy has been mainly tourism and fishing, so it’s a very agricultural type of economy. We received a significant gift from our philanthropist for 100 million dollars, David Rue, and the concept here is to build basically a new economy in developing regions, which means it would fit into that category, and the idea here is really to have a combination of assets together that could drive forward an economy of a region. So it’s an economic development initiative in that we’ve got a university which has research, that has learning.

We’re partnering with other universities in the region as well, so other stakeholders there in education. But also state and local government, the city government, as well as venture in order to help to build startup culture there as well. The key element, the driver behind all of this, is what we term “Experiential AI”, which is really human in the loop and applications-based artificial intelligence. We have a research focus on that, but we’ve also got a learning focus on AI, and especially in the Life Sciences, as I said, dual focus. The idea there is to actually bring in companies that are existing around that focus, and then also attract other companies or organisations into that region.

So far that’s going really well, and we have a dozen companies that are founding partners, and we already have our first cohort of learners that are going to be small initially. We’ll be around 50 learners or so, but that’s already off to a very strong start. So I think the moral of the story here is that if you bring the right tools and the right ideas to a location, then you’re going to bring the right talent around that.

Tim:

Part of the reason for the real institute is to build a new type of job in that area of Maine?

Kenneth:

That’s exactly right. The model there is actually even more of a departure for us. The way this is designed is that we have a dozen founding corporate partners, and they truly sit down with us at the beginning in order to design the learning programs. The traditional university goes out and says, “Here’s what we think is a great product. Say yes.” What do you guys truly need? What was your gap? What do you need in terms of skill development, or leadership, or creative thinking? What is it you actually need? And we sit and work with those partners, and then design on a personal level what the program would be that would make the best sense for them.

It really is personalised education, but it’s done with the company at the seat at the table at the very beginning, and then of course there’s a partnership there with them in terms of they were looking for them to be the supplier of the talent we would then help develop. So that’s a step beyond what we’ve done in the past to really ensure that we are providing the companies with the talent and upscaling that they want.

Tim:

Well, that’s a very interesting thing you’re attempting there because it’s got broader implications and, as we all know, there’s a political divide in the US which partly is driven by the types of jobs available in the area. In the Midwest you’re not going to find many high technology jobs, so is this a way of inserting elements of the new economy into areas which don’t have that now, and which suffer high unemployment and lack of opportunity?

Kenneth:

Tim, you’re exactly on point. The benefactor in this particular enterprise, Dave Rue, has is that we’re defaulting into super cities, like the Bay Area, and Boston, New York, Seattle, maybe Austin, Texas, and there’s a few more where there’s these really high-paying, high-powered jobs. Then the rest of the economy is getting left behind. In the rest of the population, if you’re not involved, you’ll get left behind and that’s not seen as sustainable. So going back to your previous speaker, in terms of renaissance or revolution, those renaissances were relatively broadly based. A concern here is that you could really increase the divide unless you spread the areas, the physical locations, where this talent resides. And we’re only part of this. We’re not the solution. But it has to be a social compact with all these other components, and can we as part of this be a solution to actually helping to drive economies in areas that need that economic stimulus?

Tim:

Thanks, Kenneth. Now we are getting towards the end of our time, but there’s an interesting issue which is coming up on the chat. The point is being made that there is a way of funding education of the type that you are doing through income share, where a student can pay less but, once they’ve graduated, then the employer invests in the education and gets the benefit.

Kenneth:

Let’s just state the obvious here. The model in the United States for education is very expensive, especially the residential model. We are, like many institutions, looking at various different mechanisms in order to fund the education for students moving forward. So income share agreements are certainly one of those potential tools that are very interesting. Either by the individual doing an income share agreement and basically deferring the cost, and later in life when they have the means to, pay be a percentage of their future salary. Some places have done. That’s been tested a little bit in the United States.

Then the other one that you raise, which I think is really intriguing, is having the employer pay. We’ve not yet done that. See, the area that we’re starting to explore more is similar. It’s not so much an income share agreement. It really is a hybrid model of our apprenticeship. This is the co-op to job model. So that’s where an employer would actually pay the tuition during some period of time in order for that learner then to rotate into the company. But I think the answer to many of these questions is that we’re going to be using many of these models and we’re going to personalise that to the learner, whatever makes sense to them, what makes sense to the company. The way we’ve done this in the past is likely to continue in the future.

Tim:

Speaking about the future, let’s look at the future and the way that education will look. Do you think that you will always be offering the standard three or four year degree, or are you looking at different models of education which might have shorter courses, might be more continuous, might be stackable?

Kenneth:

No question. Just like Michael in the previous session, I think he’s 100 percent correct. We’re already doing that. So we’re unbundling all of our programs, which include undergraduate programs, and we just released this semester our first fully online undergraduate first semester for a full first semester, which is comprehensive, so it covers all majors. We just released that. That’s designed to be unbundled, and stackable, and reusable, and we have more experience in that in the graduate degree space where, again, everything that we’re doing is building basically a portfolio of content that can be reused. What we’re finding is, and we hear this from companies, we hear this from adult learners, that what they need to know more, and they need it when they want it, and they need it in a convenient way. So we’re absolutely trying to serve that need so the traditional university, which is, look after your 18 to 22 year olds do four years of degree and then you send them on their merry way, those days are very quickly coming to an end. I believe that if higher education doesn’t transform to be a really, truly integrated lifelong learning organisation, then we’re not fulfilling our mission. If companies are providing education to employees then that’s not their skill set, that’s not their core business. That’s the core business of educators. We’re not fulfilling our mission. So that’s something that we’re very interested in, through a variety of means, ensuring that we have this lifelong engagement. That’s going to be an unbundled but stackable format. That’s something that we’re actively engaged in right now.

Tim:

Just before we wind up, let’s go back to the chat to the question which has come up there about the Rue institute in Portland. Were there any surveys that were conducted to determine demographic needs of Portland in designing the experimental programs there?

Kenneth:

This was truly a social compact. It was interesting because we’ve gone to other places such as San Francisco, and Toronto, and Vancouver, or other cities. And there we’ve really worked hard to try and integrate into a system, and usually that’s taking some force of will. In Portland, Maine we were welcomed with open arms. It was seen that there is a need for high quality research and education at the Masters level and above within that system, and therefore there was a compact that was made between the state, the city, and venture. Part of that was really looking at where is this? Where is Portland best positioned to make an impact? So I mentioned Life Sciences as an example, sort of Experiential AI in Life Sciences. That’s obviously next generation technology. It’s high paying jobs, but it’s also 90 minutes to two hours away from Boston, and Boston is one of the biggest biotech centres on the planet. So that is a corridor between Boston up to Portland, Maine, which is completely doable. it’s much smaller than the area in terms of distance, a lot easier to compute as well. That’s why Life Sciences was chosen as an area. That was done through, not only our work, but also the work of the state and economic development force there within Portland.

Tim:

Now are you getting a lot of interest from other universities in your model? Are they asking you questions about it, and do you have the feeling that anyone else is going to adopt it?

Kenneth:

There’s no question that the value proposition to learners is really clear. They come in, they get really high quality experiences in the outside world enabled by technology, and they go on in great placements, whether it be in industry or going on to a PhD in graduate school, medical school, whatever it may be. We constantly have a stream of universities, not just North America but across the world, coming to see what we do and how we do it, and we’re happy to share all of that.

There’s nothing proprietary here, apart from the tools that we build. But the model is something that we are happy to share. So, for us, what we are doing now in terms of cooperative education is not going to be enough moving forward. We’re happy to share. We’re happy for others and to use that type of model of education and experiential education, but really what we want to be in the game of is what’s coming next. So always to add that extra level of value.

One of the areas that we’re looking at now is really combining this lifelong work career design learning experience so that we evolve and to think of it as a club, a lifelong club that you have a membership of, and that you come back constantly to as your needs evolve and change. So that’s a piece we’re really excited by.

Think about career placement. It used to be something you would do at the end of your undergraduate degree and then you would never talk to a career counselor again. The alumni group from your university would be something you would rotate into, and that would be a social organisation. We are now looking at ways, including using technology, in order to actually combine these together so that career design, and your corporate learning experience, and your alumni engagement is actually a single thing. It’s like a lifelong learning club. So it’s these types of areas to move into that we hope will keep the university differentiated, and pushing ahead, and not sitting back and saying, “Oh, we’ve somehow figured this out because we haven’t the world just constantly.”

Tim:

Well thank you, Kenneth. We are out of our assigned time, but there’s a lot of thought-provoking ideas there to chew over and to look at how they can be applied in higher education in Australia. So thank you very much indeed.