At present, work on new university curricula is proceeding at a hectic pace. The main aims of the reform include stronger competence orientation and the teaching of working-life skills. The objective is that during and after their studies the students are able to recognise and verbalise their competencies.
Business world representatives have long sought to get workplace collaboration integrated into higher education curricula and called for workplace relevance from university studies. The hope is often for instrumental benefits in the form of innovations, product development and increased productivity. In many higher education institutions students are engaged in enterprise projects as part of their studies, and also other kinds of collaboration with the corporate world have become familiar to universities.
As a consequence of linking working life studies solely with the corporate world, many fields that are more theoretically oriented and inclined to basic research view the notion of working-life competencies as a bogeyman. And we are not talking about any cute little gnome here, but about an outright traditional monster operating from the darkest corners of the forest. Under threat in this case is research-based independent science. Many researchers think that any concession to working life studies decreases academic credibility and independence.
Working life studies and professional development should, therefore, be framed more broadly. First of all, in the social sciences and humanities, working life studies rarely include collaboration with enterprises. More significant collaboration partners come from the public and third sector. In these collaborations working life studies often promote social, ecological, and cultural sustainability. Students can also learn about active and effective citizenship.
Second, it is useful to approach the issue from the students’ point of view. This is particularly important because, according to career statistics, only about 10% of students enter a research career. After graduation, the others end up as experts working on various issues and tasks. Increasingly, their job calls for them to have a range of expertise as hybrid professionals capable of multitasking with two to three jobs at the same time.
Working life studies can offer students workplace contacts and concrete experience from operating in real work environments. When currently developing curricula for working life studies, we should consider how to help the students to prepare themselves for “the hard world” even more versatilely. These studies should help them reflect on how to apply in working life the theoretical-analytical competencies and critical thinking they acquire at university. Students should also know the circumstances, structures and practices of the world of work as well as the means by which these can be influenced personally and collectively.
The hope is that in all fields at university teaching staff would have the courage to break out of their academic iron cages. When basic research and working life studies are seen as separate entities, potential resources are wasted and learning opportunities lost. Current trends in the world of work, such as increasing entrepreneurship, are part of the reality most students will live in and cope with. We should prepare students to face relevant working-life practices and circumstances. It is not only right in view of a student’s career but also with regard to creating a sustainable and developing economy. After all, it is based on optimal work conditions, stable income and professionals capable of critical thinking at the workplace.
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