It’s Not About Career Advancement: The Real Reason Universities Exist, According to Professor

A professor believes that there is “a massive chasm” between what universities are designed to do and how they would need to operate to meet those expectations.

In the eyes of students, universities are built to offer their students career advancement, says Ken Wong, and subsequently schools are compared with metrics like starting salaries and placement rates. However, there is a systemic disconnect that cannot be reconciled through a “more of the same” approach, argues Wong, a professor of marketing at Queen’s University and managing partner of knowledge development at Level5 Strategy Group.

“The source of the problem lies in a single word: science. The distinctive role of universities is not just to advance opinions but opinions that can be held under the microscope of scientific (or at least quasi-scientific) investigation for verification. Fact-finding takes time—to reason what questions need answering, study the issue, document findings and publish them,” writes Wong in Strategy magazine. “The lag between business recognizing a skills gap and universities beginning the search for a way to respond to that need is hard-wired into the process.”

This explains why universities often seem unresponsive. But it doesn’t remedy the problem. Nor does it absolve universities from the responsibility to either correct or meet a faulty customer expectation, says Wong. So what now?

Quoth Strategy:

We need to become the embodiment of the technologies we know our students will need, albeit without the rigours of scientific inquiry. We must recognize that the best way to show them how to provide those technologies is to let them experience them as users. And so, just as social media has shown us the power of dialogue versus one-way information, we need to bring student and practitioner voices into the classroom; just as we have learned about multi-channel communication and distribution, we must engage non-classroom and non-lecture/case discussion methodologies into our retailing of knowledge.

According to Wong, professors and universities do not simply provide knowledge; “we shape attitudes toward knowledge acquisition and development [and] we have a responsibility to show students that their career does not start upon graduation: it started upon admission to our programs.”

Wong argues that professors need to convey that a commitment to learning does not stop at the physical limits of the classroom unless their sole motivation for studying our field is an academic grade.

“To really prepare students we don’t need to tell them what to think—we must help them learn to identify, on their own, what to think about,” writes Wong. “And that is the real reason universities exist.”