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Siloed university courses cannot prepare students for the jobs of the future

Vice Chancellor Eeva Leinonen in lab coat with scientist

In this era of change for the university sector, one thing is certain. Graduates skilled in STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – are seen as crucial to Australia’s future prosperity.

With the Federal Government’s Job-Ready Graduates package starting in January, future students are being encouraged to choose an area of study that matches their interests and the needs of the current and future workforce – and many of these are in STEM subjects.

The Government’s $900 million National Priorities and Industry Linkage Fund (NPILF) is also a significant lever for increasing the number of STEM-skilled graduates.

The intent of the fund is to enhance collaboration with industry through initiatives such as work integrated learning, work placements and the co-design and co-creation of curriculum.

While the details of the initiative are yet to be finalised, it broadly seeks not only to increase the number of STEM graduates but also encourages non-STEM graduates to complete STEM study.

The study of STEM subjects is not an either/or proposition – and students need to have the flexibility to mix and match their course profile to maximise their job readiness.

As the Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan told Parliament: “We are encouraging students to tailor their studies to learn skills that will be in demand in areas of future jobs growth. That means breaking down the traditional degree ‘silos’ by choosing units of study across disciplines …”

At Murdoch University, we are well down the path of bringing these two worlds together to enable all graduates to build successful careers. The pace of change, digital technology, automation and globalisation have demanded a different approach.

We expect all our students, regardless of what discipline they study, will be able to build their STEM knowledge throughout the entire length of their degree.

We are moving towards a “STEM Everywhere” model, where all students – regardless of the course they choose – will have access to STEM learning. We do not believe the old barriers between courses of study and disciplines are fit for purpose in a world where most graduates will have many different professions over their lifetime, requiring a wide array of soft and hard skills and frequent upskilling to keep pace with technological change.

Next year, we are embedding in our Career Learning Spine the opportunity for all non-STEM students complete learning modules in data analytics and digital technology. The Career Learning Spine is designed to give students practical, transferable skills required for a successful career.

Our Bachelor of Arts course has also embedded STEM learning through units such as “The Weight of Data”, which covers the links between information science and humanities, while a new major in Global Challenges being introduced next year includes IT, economics and sustainability components.

Under our “STEM Everywhere” approach, we want students to have the flexibility to easily incorporate STEM elements into their degree. For example, a Bachelor of Commerce student might want to specialise in Analytics, while a Law student may have a special interest in Cybercrime or Law Technology.

Murdoch University’s strengths in Health, Food and Environment will also be augmented with specialist STEM learning embedded within a degree framework. For example, a Food Science student will learn Chemistry and Biological Science, a Renewable Energy student Physics, a Data Analytics student Mathematics and Information Technology, and so on.

We are also listening to business and industry and recently co-hosted an SME roundtable with the Chamber of Commerce and Industry (WA) to explore how the two sectors could work more closely together to ensure that work integrated learning is a valuable experience for the student and the employer.

It is predicted that 75% of all jobs of the future will be STEM-related. Problem solving, critical thinking and digital skills will be essential. STEM is everywhere. Knowing this means we cannot accept the status quo. In our increasingly complex world, knowledge can no longer be siloed.

Professor Eeva Leinonen, Vice Chancellor of Murdoch University
Professor Eeva Leinonen is a member of the NPILF Working Group

 

Posted on:

1 Dec 2020

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