Does post-secondary education need an overhaul?

Many students want education that matches their digital lifestyle; 3-year degrees popular

Does post-secondary education need an overhaul?

Many Canadians feel it’s time for a change in the post-secondary education system.

Almost nine in 10 (88 per cent) expect their school to provide the "easy-to-use and straightforward" digital customer service experience they expect in other walks of life.

That’s according to a report from KPMG that also found three-quarters (76 per cent) of post-secondary students believe the "university of the future will bear little resemblance to today's educational institutions" with 69 per cent saying advanced technology – from robots and holograms to augmented and virtual reality – will become commonplace in classrooms.

Eighty-eight per cent want the post-secondary institution experience (from registration to payment, course materials, etc.) to be digitally accessible online or via mobile phone, saying it should be "really easy to use and straightforward", found KPMG’s survey of 1,203 Canadian post-secondary students conducted in September.

"After a full year of remote learning, Canadian post-secondary students – who grew up on social media, streaming, food-delivery and ride-sharing apps – expect their college or university to up their game digitally," says C.J. James, partner and national education practice leader at KPMG in Canada. 

"Students want and expect more. Over the next decade, students will become even more diverse, digital, and deliberate in their decision making, putting pressure on higher education institutions to design and deliver a more personalized experience that encompasses the student as a learner, a digitally savvy person, and a customer." 

Nearly four in five (78 per cent) post-secondary students feel the COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed their expectations of a higher education experience, and 80 per cent want a tertiary education that matches their digital lifestyle.

Nearly a third of young people globally feel their current education is not preparing them with the skills they need to get jobs, according to a UNICEF report released in March 2020.

Three-year degrees

Nearly 70 per cent of Ontarians also support the creation of three-year degree programs that will expand the range of career-focused degree programs at colleges, according to a separate report from Colleges Ontario.

Twenty-six per cent are neutral or unsure and six per cent are opposed to such programs, according to the survey of 1,056 adults.

Currently, Ontario's colleges offer a mix of four-year degree programs, two-year and three-year diploma programs, in-class apprenticeship training and post-graduate certificate programs for university and college graduates.

"There is clearly strong support for more degree programs at colleges," says Linda Franklin, president and CEO of Colleges Ontario. "Expanding our degree programs will open up more opportunities for graduates when they enter the workforce."

Seventy-nine per cent believe expanding degree programs at colleges is a good way to create more opportunities for students, with 18 per cent neutral or unsure and only three per cent opposed.

More than half (52 per cent) also support the idea of creating master's degree programs at colleges, while 11 per cent are opposed and 36 per cent are neutral or unsure.

More than two-thirds (68 per cent) of Canadian employers say they are having a hard time hiring people with the skill sets they need to grow, and more than half (52 per cent) are not confident they will find people with the skills they need and will consider recruiting outside Canada, according to a separate study.

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