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So, is University about preparing students for work, or does it have a higher purpose? Either way does it work in the 21st Century environment?

About 100 years ago, higher education restructured to meet the needs of the industrial age. It has changed little since, even as the internet has transformed life. Another revolution is needed, says Cathy Davidson, to modernise universities and prepare graduates for a 21st-century working environment

Several times each week, well-groomed young men and women parade by my faculty office with a steely-eyed mien as premeditated as their business attire. They are in search of the university career centre, which is up a narrow staircase seemingly invisible to those looking too hard. “Can I help you?” I’ve learned to offer. “Please!” they practically whimper, their carefully planned confidence evaporating into thin air. “I’m lost.”

“Lost” is a good word for the graduate of today. Even at a prestigious institution such as Duke University, where the job placement rate is well above the norm, students feel unprepared for the workplace that awaits them. No wonder. Every survey of employers underscores the fact that higher education no longer prepares students for the changing demands of the contemporary workplace.

Whether the study is conducted by the CBI in the UK or by commercial for-profit educational providers drumming up business for their remedial post-baccalaureate job-training services, everyone seems to acknowledge that today’s students are good test-takers but lack the workplace essentials necessary for the 21st century. These include people skills (especially in diverse global contexts), communication skills, collaborative skills, analytical skills, networking skills, an ability to synthesise information across a wide range of evidence, and even the most elementary skills, such as how to write a great job application letter and curriculum vitae or represent their character and talent at a job interview. No wonder they face the career centre with such trepidation.

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