Student-industry conferences need curriculum support

Every year, at least almost every year I’m fortunate enough to curate a student-industry conference. In EU grant calls they call it a dialogue. Actually, no. It’s a conference, a place and space for on and off-line interaction. Real passion, experience and knowledge cocktailed with buzzed students trying to pick a topic, set up a business or just attending for the food. The heart of this type conferencing is much deeper than that though.

Firstly, it’s not surprising to find a short note on this issue has finally popped up. University education needs to shift from recipe teaching to setting up the kind of kitchens that simply encourage cooking and tasting. For one, the decolonization of education in general is an access to knowledge issue. I hear a lot of talk about money in higher education, but access to knowledge that inspirers action is not always on the cards. Partly because there’s a ton of confusion between ‘good’ qualifications and personal development. The thing is most institutions (around here) indulge in students who treat higher education as a ticket to employment. Meanwhile campuses may also function as massive thinking-and-acting tanks; getting students dirty; ground jogged and cloud high. Industry sometimes intervenes through sponsorships, bursaries and all the paperwork. That’s good for qualifications, but not so much for personal development, and self-awareness (beyond sport and culture). Here’s what I’m trying to do to change the way teaching and learning works within the context of mobility and access.

  • Organsing student and industry engagements beyond guest lectures and site visits (not field trips) in a manner that is consistent with module or qualification related content.
  • Committing students to complex tasks related to much larger topics and concerns related to developing and reforming our local area in an independent and thoughtful manner.
  • Pushing the undergraduate envelope by incorporating recognized industry associations, their capacity and networking capabilities, in order to create new elements within the curriculum. Two examples: (1) introducing the Transport and Logistics Student Association (TALSA) and (2) the African Women in Supply Chain Association (AWISCA). Each of these associations are not just springboards for cheap-talk. Our goal, in the team, is to set up a developmental, engaged and fully aware student with the kind of vision to see through textbooks.
  • Connecting industry projects with university student curriculum (viable for post-schooling too) in a manner that integrates the students involved with the teaching process. How? The students basically act as catalyst for discussion, project and concept leadership throughout.

It takes years to reform a country that has been in recession for the majority of the population; an unemployment rate that’s not been lower than 20% in forever; with an inflation rate that was conducive for employment creation in 95; and a wild case of people politics. Once industry actually pics up that students are the best bet for actual change, we may not need to wait until they graduate before they are building businesses, unique acumen and clear world views. We can talk social media, online sales, high ROI in the long term on a different day. The entire education, transport and business development environment just needs to go inside out of the junk state of mind; ground level it and renew vows with personal development. Not all students want to be on campus — cool. But the paper qualification thing will mean nothing without some serious introspection at classroom level.

What do student industry conferences do other than get people talking? Nothing, unless if they are part of a larger program, connected and moved within and beyond the curriculum.


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