What students learn in college

According to a software industry report, the world will need approximately 35 million Information Technology (IT) workers by 2020. The report cites growth in software applications, cloud computing, mobile platforms, and big data as major drivers of new businesses and jobs. Wall Street analysts agreed, a spokesperson said: “With innovations in information technology, more companies will be formed and more workers will be needed. Investment companies would like to see more startups to become another Microsoft or Google to push the economy out of current recession.”

The report projected that investment in IT will reach $2.4 trillion by 2020 but more than half will probably be invested in Asia as these countries are emerging as new innovation forces in the world markets. The analyst wrote: “Emerging economies such as China and India have been aggressive in developing information technology industry because without it, it would be impossible to create enough jobs for their billions of people. The advantages of IT industry are it creates more jobs, attracts more foreign investments, but it costs less to develop. Therefore, it is ideal for emerging economies to use information industry to improve its economy and compete in the global market.”

Over the past 20 years, investments in IT innovations have fostered significant job growth and accelerate economic recovery in many countries but today they are all facing another dilemma: The shortage of IT skilled workers to build the innovations engine for the industry. Although number of students studying information technology has increased in the past few years but the key question is do these students actually have the skills that industry needs? There is much debate about the quality as well as the up to date of current training programs in some countries. Much of the discussion is focused on what students learned in college and what they can do when leaving school.

Among Asian countries, China claims to have the highest number of college graduates than any country in the world. However, many companies are complaining that except for few top universities, most state universities have produced a large number of graduates that have no skills. That is why there are several million college graduates without jobs and still depending on family to support them. A Chinese professor explained: “I have taught in university for thirty years. There is a difference between students twenty years ago and current students. In the past most students are studious and work hard but today many students are lazy and only want to pass exams to get degree. The university system is making it easy for students to pass tests to meet government quota. Even those who fail are given another chance to pass. For example, if students fail my course, I am required to tutor them and give a second exam few weeks later to make sure that all students will pass. There is no reason for me to work extra so I do not fail any students even they do not deserve to pass.” Another professor adds: “When we were in university, we must research and wrote our thesis carefully as they were examined by a strict college board. Today many researches are nothing but a copy of somebody publication with some modifications. The main idea is to get the degree as nothing else matter. For thousand years, China’s culture regards education is the only way to get good job. Chinese parents have sacrificed everything for their child to go to college and it puts a great pressure on the child to get a degree. A college student admitted: “Our family is an extended one with many family members so gossip is really bad. Everybody and neighbors all know about your studying, so if you fail or do not have degree, it will bring a lot of shame. That is why most of us cheat or even bribe the school officers to get degree. Now we all have degree but no job and it is the fact that few people want to talk about.”

At the time of independence, India has 20 universities with total enrollment less than one million students. Today India’s education system has grown into one of the largest in the world with over 400 universities (Ones who offer MS and PhD programs) and 20,000 colleges (Ones who only offer bachelor’s degree) and the number of college students has risen to over 25 million students. Despite the expansion that has occurred, the education system is struggled to provide a sufficient education to the massive number of students. There are few top universities that have the best professors, the best training programs, and the best research laboratories but they mostly offer trainings to the elites and brightest students who can pass the strict entrance exams. The rest of the state universities and colleges are all having problems with hiring qualified professors who have the knowledge and skills to educate students. The accelerated growth of India’s economy, especially in information technology has created significant shortages of high-quality technical professors. Without qualified professors, it is difficult to develop skilled workers to meet the growing demand of the economy. A software professor explained: “The teaching salary at state college level is about a third of what I can get from working in the software industry. That is why many professors left the teaching profession to work for the IT industry.” Without qualified professors, many have to hire unqualified people, unusually math professors are asked to teach computer; history professors are asked to teach science etc. Many never work outside the academic so they have to rely on textbooks that were written several years in the past. That is why most of our graduates only have the basic skills but cannot handle anything complex as the industry needs. Our key advantage over China is our students speak English well but the question is how long can we rely on this? Unlike other countries, where the population is growing older, India is a few countries where young working age population is growing quickly with about 70% of the population below the age of 35 years. Without proper education there will be a lot of young people without jobs and it could be a disaster for our country.”

There are plans proposed by both India and China governments to measure what students learn in college such as graduation tests but it faces a strong resistance from both professors and students. A senior government officer said: “To go to college, high school students must pass tests so before go to work in industry, it is necessary to test them because we do not know how much students learn in college. As much as we spend for education, we have no idea what actually happens in the classroom and how that eventually translates into the skills of students. Colleges cannot keep us in the dark when it comes to how much knowledge and skills they provide to our students. It is logical that we need to know about how effective our investment is in our education system.”


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University

You may like