A Brave New “Deloitte” World… Educators Wake UP!

Could we leave the door unlocked? , by Erik Pevernagie, oil on canvas, 100 x130 cm

Could we leave the door unlocked? , by Erik Pevernagie, oil on canvas, 100 x130 cm

This week we have a spirited call to critique the corporate discourse on tertiary education that seems to be influencing executive management in universities. Dallas Wingrove & Angela Clarke take on Deloitte’s recent white paper.

In reading the recent Deloitte white paper The paradigm shift: redefining education we became increasingly concerned by the vision of higher education the authors propose. Deloitte’s analysis of the current and new education paradigm is alarming because of the potential influence this paper may have on the development of future government policy.

The paper, produced by business leaders and technology experts, details a nine-month study conducted by Deloitte’s Centre for the Edge. It indicates that existing models of education are becoming increasingly irrelevant.  The paper suggests a significant disconnect between the purpose of education and the demands on “the modern worker”. In the context of rapid technological change, Deloitte identifies two factors that are operating as catalysts for a paradigm shift in education: work-integrated learning, and a shift from traditional methods of credentialing employees.

In this post we discuss and respond to what we consider are the most alarming assumptions, conclusions and predictions presented by Deloitte through their blindsiding analysis of this new paradigm.  We call on educators to wake up and push back, lest we find ourselves immersed in a brave new “Deloitte” world.

Our response

  • Deloitte is blindsiding. Its analysis ignores major curriculum, pedagogical and policy shifts that have occurred in the higher education sector over the past twenty years. For example, they argue that the existing education paradigm is founded upon building “stocks of knowledge, transferring those stocks to individuals and then certifying that this knowledge has been successfully transferred”. Twenty-first century students are no longer considered entities for receiving transmission; rather they are encouraged to develop graduate attributes such as critical thinking, along with“the values that inform the work of universities, their contribution to culture, citizenship and intellectual growth” (Hounsell, 2010). In more recent years, and despite the massification of the higher education sector, Australian universities have embraced and enacted a more holistic, all-encompassing view of these attributes and values, foregrounding lifelong learning as a core graduate outcome.
  • Deloitte’s analysis ignores the complexities of the education debate. Their model triangulates industry, education and students and takes no account of its role in educating for essential public service sectors such as human services, health, and not-for-profits, or indeed the arts.
  • Deloitte appropriates and then subverts educational concepts. For example, the authors claim a holistic view of a university education and herald lifelong learning as integral to the way forward. Yet Deloitte’s framework subverts a holistic education by privileging productivity and enterprise skills over higher order learning. The underlying assumption is that the usefulness of a university education is to serve the needs of a product-producing economy. As noted above, the concept of lifelong learning is not new for educators. Australian universities have for decades been moving toward models of lifelong learning that foster and evidence the integration and application of knowledge and skills.
  • Deloitte assumes educational institutions are producing “workers” of the future. Using a superficial interpretation of Bloom’s taxonomy, the paper defines a creative worker as someone who has “the ability to build on lower order skills to create a new product or idea”.  In doing so, Deloitte fails to recognise the multiple intelligences required for the development of fully formed citizens.
  • Deloitte subvert research. By repositioning research activity as an “optimisation” practice undertaken to deliver economic outputs the authors ignore the critical role that research plays in enhancing social and cultural wellbeing in society for the betterment of all.  
  • Deloitte is inconsistent in its argument.  Much of the paper argues for a shift from “knowledge stocks” to “knowledge flows”.  This is where knowledge and skills acquisition is a continuous process of filling the gaps because of rapidly changing contexts and technology. However in the final paragraph Deloitte undermines this argument by suggesting that students might need “a bedrock of essential facts”. What facts would they be then, given that knowledge, according to Deloitte, should consist of “flows”?

Conclusion

We acknowledge that one of the fundamental roles of a university is to equip its graduates to contribute effectively to the knowledge economy. In this, employability represents a core graduate outcome. However, a university education should not be exclusively focused on economic returns and the creation of “productive workers”.

The Deloitte paper does raise some interesting points, particularly by reinforcing the importance of integrating learning and work. The role of education sectors in being able to adapt to newly emerging ways of credentialing employability is also worthy of deeper consideration.

Deloitte also proposes a model for “creative knowledge work” consisting of three pillars. The proposed second pillar relates to the importance of equipping “the worker” with the capacity to “create a new solution to a new problem”. A worthy attribute, and yet in making this point Deloitte states, “As Donald Rumsfeld might say, they need to minimise the unknown unknowns”. This is a surprising reference to say the least. “Unknown unknowns” was a phrase used by Rumsfeld when answering questions from the media in the context of evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in 2002.

We believe that Deloitte’s reductionist analysis fails to recognise what lies at the heart of a high quality democratic university education. True, there may be a paradigm shift underway but we should not lose sight of the fact that a twenty-first century educational experience should still:

  • foster higher order  transformative learning, AND
  • nurture socially responsible and ethical citizens of the world committed to contribute to, and equipped to critically engage with, not only business and government, but also with community and culture.

As educators we must remain vigilant and active in the debates around education. Otherwise we may turn around one day to find our educational institutions have been appropriated for the purposes of economic imperatives alone.

Reference

Hounsell, D. (2010). ‘Graduates for the 21st Century: Integrating the Enhancement themes’. End of year report.

4 thoughts on “A Brave New “Deloitte” World… Educators Wake UP!

  1. Fascinating commentary, but isn’t it a bit too late? The current university environment, including the academic promotion system, the employability focus, adoption of work allocation models, etc are indicative of the instrumentalist paradigm that universities have embraced. The mere fact that ‘higher education’ is considered an ‘industry’ further reflects our country’s approach to education. I joined the university to be of ‘service’ to the community but performances are now measured based on outputs. While I agree with the authors’ critique of the paper and position on higher education’s purpose, I also question the federal government’s role in perpetuating this thinking.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment on our post Marianne – we are very appreciative. Yes you make a good point – are we shutting the gate after the horse has bolted? In some ways yes and I agree the federal government has perpetuated this thinking. However, trends come and go as do our governments and indeed our Prime Ministers. The voices of the corporates are heard loud and clear in Canberra. This was a first attempt for us to question those voices. We too joined the university to be of ‘service’ and intend to continue to be a dissenting voice in relation to this agenda. The more that join this debate the louder this voice becomes and the more influence it has on future government policy.

  2. Thanks for this post. My 2 cents worth.

    Emerging credentialing will bypass universities as students as potential employees realise new ways to gather credentials. Deeper consideration of this area won’t help a university. Universities commonly fumble around in this area particularly with open badging where they get caught up in ownership and myriad of related structural issues. It reminds me of the Australian University when MOOCs first emerged stating that it was “keeping a watching brief on MOOCs”. By this I understood that they would miss the boat on MOOCs which is what happened.

    Universities struggle with new forms of knowledge emergence more generally. That university needs to improve on preparing students for the unknown unknowns remains true, despite the unfortunate associations of this phrase.

    The value of organisations such reports is to help remind us of the potential blind spots with education. And sure, Deloittes have their own blind spots.

    I really appreciate the humanising approach you take to this report and agree we have to be so careful to maintain attention on the broader issues to which you draw attention. And I remain optimistic about the future of universities.

    1. Thanks Howard for taking the time to read and comment on our post. We really appreciate it. Yes true like Deloitte, universities have many blind spots. The juggernaut-like systems and process of universities do mean they miss the boat on rapidly changing technologies – MOOCs being a good case in point. However, after ten years working in academic development we have found that changing technologies are not the real issues for teachers in education or indeed as you say credentialing. We work with academics on their core values about preparing students for the unknown (the associations as well as the double speak of “unknown unknowns” is simply too much to even use the phrase). In our experience what sits at the heart of the work we do with academics is not “what technology should I use?” but “how do I engage my students to think and act deeply in relationship to this material regardless of the delivery mode?”. This work as you imply places the emphasis on human inter-relationships. For this reason, like you, we remain optimistic about the future of universities. Thanks for noticing the human touch.

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