December 4, 2023

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Systemic Needs in Higher Education


Recently, the Nigerian National Universities Commission issued a statement that pushes lecturers into industrial attachments. Like many African nations, the graduate unemployment rates are a constant problem for higher education. With countless students in all universities spending a great amount of time, money, and sacrifices by the family, it’s horrific to think that the “majority of the graduates produced by the country’s higher institutions are ‘unemployable’”, according to the same article. Ironically, Africa is not the only continent who’s finding such challenges. Penguin Random House UK, in 2016, also announced that they no longer required a college degree for job applicants. The challenges in higher education are abundant in many parts of the world.

The solution to graduating more prepared and skillful graduates calls for a systemic redesign of higher education. It calls for people to possess systems thinking abilities to understand how the educational system was built within their nation and how it’s progressed over the last few decades. The formal education system was built in the early 1900’s during the industrial revolution to create employees suitable for the industrial machine. Many of the principles in this education system built employees ready for to be controlled by management. For example, in the industrial age, the practice of absolute obedience of “yes sir” contributed to production. Today, the “yes sir” mentality of employees are very debilitating when companies need to compete at the innovation level of a knowledge economy driven by technology. While the business world have advance in countless ways, the system of education remains the same. For example, categorization has restricted the integration of concepts. Most universities still unconsciously apply categorization to its curriculum and teach isolated subjects to students. At the same time, our world has become more and more integrated with technology, which demands more integration. This reality creates a huge the gap within the education system. Furthermore, many studies have proven the need for higher emotional intelligence in the workplace. This is a complex development process which takes years. Within the categorization framework of higher education, emotional intelligence is taught as a topic within a single module or one entire module. This is far from what is needed to develop emotional intelligence. Universities are not designed for such development, which is greatly needed in today’s workplace.

Many nations and universities recognize this problem but are not equipped to address it. The lack of awareness of the system of education causes them to use a band aid approach that rarely touches the systemic issues or produces the desired outcomes. The Nigerian National Universities Commission’s idea of getting lecturers into industry is a great idea. A few questions on the systemic impact remain, however. Are lecturers ready and willing to go into industry and work? Are industries ready for such academics to come into their workplace? Either side must be ready to handle such a transition. Additional unintended outcomes may be problematic as well, as lecturers who perform well in industry may not return to their university job, resulting in a loss of talent by the university. On a systemic level, this does not address the many aspects of higher education. The lecturers are only one crucial part of higher education. Other aspects, such as curriculum development, faculty development, including teaching methods from educational psychology, quality assurance frameworks, compensation structures, institutional governance, and technology-based educational tools and systems, must function together. Without considering the entire system, one change in a part of the system will be insufficient to make the desired impact.


Let’s look at the solution to the problem of graduate skill sets needed by today’s workplace. Here are some key skills needed to begin the redesign of higher education, whether for a single university or for a nation:

  1. Solid understanding of systems thinking: it is not about technology like some may think. Systems thinking is an understanding of the interconnectedness of various parts. For higher education, it is how the various parts like faculty development, university governance, curriculum development and others influence each other within the larger system.
  2. Ability to create new systems: Once the interconnectivities are drawn out in a systemic diagram, a new system with attention to many details can be created to support the overall vision of an institution.
  3. Wisdom to know when, how and with who: With a new system on paper, the wisdom to identify the timing of implementation, the necessary people to involve, and the implement strategies takes ample practice to master. Planning out the implementation of a new system requires many stakeholder groups’ support.
  4. Courage to take action: finally, the courage to implement a new system which may take some time has to be one’s calling. Many people have ideas, but the courage to do something so different has to be present within the main leaders of the institution.

These skills can be learned, developed, and mastered over time. Having worked with many universities across the world in various capacities, I’ve seen how systemic changes can be powerful in transforming a university into a creator of powerful graduates. Recently, I’ve been fortunate enough to create a new educational model into a new university. With these experiences, it’s quite clear that the overhaul in redesigning education for the 21st century is highly needed. For African universities, which still function with significant aspects of the colonial educational systems that designed a linear way of life for Africans, the redesign of higher education is a must to move their nations ahead. With all of the past efforts by various leaders, one has to wonder – why is our nation continuing to struggle to be competitive on the global level? Changing how something looks won’t change the engine that continue to produce the constant graduate unemployment problem. Perhaps, moving from basic linear strategies to a much more holistic systemic design is the only way out. Higher education should be an integrated system of learning that produces emotionally intelligent and innovative leaders. I’ve seen firsthand the quality of graduates when such changes are made. If you share such a vision, contact me to collaborate further.



Professor Dr2. Ted Sun

Dr. Sun is the chief dream maker in his global consulting company and the Chief Academic officer at Transcontinental Institute (EU), the President of Transcontinental University (US), an innovative graduate business school with two unique brands. He works to develop leaders and organizations around the world. As a world-renowned motivational speaker, he has transformed thousands of lives. As an academic, he’s worked at some of the world’s most prestigious universities across the world like University of Liverpool in the UK, The Ohio State University in the US, and UIBE in China. Dr. Sun possess two doctorate degrees in Business and Psychology, which enables him to perceive systemic flaws and design new systems of human development. In the last two years, leaders from 42 different countries felt the impact of Dr. Sun’s work. He has spoken to audiences in the hundreds in Asia, worked with government leaders in Africa, EU and Asia. His expertise has been recognized by major television media in the U.S. and Ghana, and led multinational research involving hundreds of universities across the world. As a result of such experiences and engagements, Dr. Sun is a respected author, a renowned consultant and a highly sought-after educator and researcher around the world. He recently spoke on the topic of educating the next billion in the IndiaGlobal conference at the MIT Sloan School of Management. He will be speaking to you today about the major challenge of higher education in Ghana and the PhD program designed to address systemic challenges.

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