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Is A (Nearly) Zero-Cost Model Plausible for Science and Engineering Programs?


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Credit: The Technion

Introduction

Higher education today faces many challenges, including financial and the recognition that alongside professional core knowledge, skills should also be acquired as part of the degree. It is, therefore, time to consider a suitable economic model that not only provides students with such additional skills, but whose budget load is almost zero. As I will illustrate in this blog, such a model is plausible and, furthermore, enables the university to exploit its strengths and resources more inclusively, express agility, increase its impact, and create a network of stakeholders from the ecosystem of science and engineering that will ensure the program's sustainability.

The model

The proposed model may guide academic organizations when considering the establishment of new educational programs. It suggests that programs can sometimes be launched and operated successfully without additional investments, based on the utilization of existing resources, while at the same time better fulfilling their targets.

Programs that apply this model address both social and individual needs; focus on imparting professional skills, in addition to excellent professional knowledge (described by the recently coined term Credegree (Busteed, 2019)); utilize existing university resources that represent its strengths, without (almost) any other internal or external resources; and create multi-level win-win situations for many stakeholders – both within and outside of the university: individual students, faculty members, the university, the industry, and the state.

I will illustrate the model using two undergraduate science and engineering programs offered by the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, which ranks among the top 100 universities worldwide (Academic Ranking of World Universities). Ten thousand undergraduate students study at the Technion in 17 academic units (called faculties) and Technion graduates fill many leading positions in the Israeli industry, contributing significantly to Israel's economic growth.

The two programs – Views and #Ladders – were initiated by the author of this blog while serving as a faculty dean (Views in 2011) and as Dean of Undergraduate Studies (#Ladders in 2017). Views addresses the need for qualified high school STEM teachers (see Hazzan, 2014) and #Ladder addresses the work-study conflict that many undergraduate science and engineering students experience (Hazzan and Levontin, 2018). Existing resources were used for both programs, and their actual cost was (almost) zero.

Table 1 summarizes the main characteristics of Views and #Ladders and Table 2 shows how Views and #Ladders create a win-win situation for many stakeholders.

Table 1: Main characteristics of Views and #Ladder

Characteristic

Views

#Ladders

Meaning of program name

Views is the abbreviation, in Hebrew, of Engineers/scientists in Science and Technology Education.

The source of the name #Ladders is the dual career ladder concept used in the industry, which reflects the option of ascending the organization hierarchy by either climbing the managerial ladder or the technical ladder. Accordingly, the #Ladders program offers the opportunity to pursue a career in either the academia or the industry. The # (hashtag) is used as a graphic representation of a ladder; in Hebrew, this symbol is called "sulamit", which means a small ladder.

Motivation

  • Israel's need for qualified STEM teachers.

 

  • Approximately 50% of undergraduate students at the Technion work in parallel with their studies, mostly in hi-tech companies outside of the Technion.
  • Most students are exposed neither to the research that takes place at the Technion, nor to the range of opportunities a research career offers.
  • The Technion provides its undergraduate students with a lower level of knowledge than desired and loses potential graduate students and future academic staff.

Target population

  • Technion graduate and undergraduate students.
  • Technion undergraduate students.

Target

  • Gaining teaching skills;
  • Opening additional professional development paths.
  • Gaining research skills;
  • Opening additional professional development paths.

Implementation

  • Technion graduates return to the Technion to study towards an additional bachelor's degree, which includes a high school teaching certificate for one of the STEM subjects. 
  • Participants are exempt from tuition.
  • Studies take place one day or two half-days a week for two years and participants can continue working in parallel to their studies. 
  • Students are not required to commit to teaching in the education system.
  • Technion undergraduate students are exposed to the advanced research that takes place at the Technion in a variety of ways including:
  • paid work on research projects and in research labs. 
  • an undergraduate course - 'Exposure to Research at the Technion' (Hazzan and Binah-Pollak, 2020).

Individual need addressed

  • A new path for a second career;
  • Contribution to STEM education in Israel.
  • Work-study conflict, stress, and loss of focus on studies;
  • Desire to gain professional experience during undergraduate studies.

Number of students/graduates

  • About 100 new students and graduates each year.
  • About 50 new students each year.

Existing resources utilized

  • Courses are taught anyway at the Faculty of Education in Science and Technology.
  • Administrative and teaching staff.
  • Technion researchers' research budget.
  • Administrative staff.

Actual (almost-zero) cost

  • Cost for checking homework.
  • 'Exposure to Research' course administration.
  • Booth at the job fair that takes place at the Technion twice a year.

 

Table 2: Multi-level win-win situation for all stakeholders

#Ladders

Views

Program

Stakeholder

  • On-campus, paid research jobs;
  • A meaningful work experience;
  • Research skills that include many of the 21st century skills needed in the future job market of the 4th industrial revolution era; e.g., interdisciplinary thinking, teamwork, communication skills, ethics, coping with uncertainty and ambiguity, overcoming failures, fundraising, entrepreneurship and innovation;
  • Additional path for professional development;
  • Students can observe the application of their studies in actual research.
  • Additional profession – high school STEM teacher;
  • Job mobility;
  • Job security.

Students and alumni

  • Exposure of their research to students from other disciplines;
  • Interdisciplinary research and increased diversity of research team are fostered;
  • Expansion of the pool of potential graduate students.
  • High-level students with meaningful professional experience;
  • Mutual learning.

Faculty members / Lecturers

  • Increased pool for graduate and future faculty members;
  • Unique branding – Research skills gained at one of the top science and engineering university worldwide;
  • Implementation of the T-Model for engineer education (Plummer, 2013).
  • The returning graduates have extensive and solid scientific and engineering knowledge and so, if and when they switch to education, they will be able to educate future generations of Technion students in this spirit.
  • Tighten connections with its alumni.

Technion

  • The industry gains people with educational knowledge at no cost; 
  • Benefit to employees - a day off for studying at no cost to the workplace;
  • The technological education tracks produce human resources with technological backgrounds, who in demand by the industry.

Industry

  • Future employees (in either the industry or academia) gain research skills that can boost the economy in new directions.
  • Qualified teachers;
  • Views teachers bring into the education system not only updated content knowledge but also innovations and organizational experience, including new management methods and teamwork habits they implemented previously in the hi-tech industry;
  • No need to invest special effort (and funds) to attract qualified people to join the education system.

State

 

Summary

My focus in this blog was on a science and engineering research university. This environment is meaningful since the industry, one of the major future employers of science and engineering research university graduates, is one of the stakeholders that benefits from the presented model, due to its need for qualified employees in these domains. This need is a result of the rapid changes in the world in general, and in the tech industry in particular, as expressed in the current 4th industrial revolution. Application of this model in other domains should be investigated as well.

References

Busteed, B. ,(2019). Why College Will Soon Be About Credegrees And Co-Ops, Forbes https://www.forbes.com/sites/brandonbusteed/2019/03/11/why-college-will-soon-be-about-credegrees-and-co-ops/#266152453159

Hazzan, O. (2014). A proactive approach to high school STEM education in Israel, Tomorrow's Professor eNewsletter 1337, https://tomprof.stanford.edu/posting/1337

Hazzan, O. and Binah-Pollak, A. (2020). Exposure to Research in Science and Engineering Undergraduate Studies, Tomorrow's Professor eNewsletter 1794, https://tomprof.stanford.edu/posting/1794

Hazzan, O. and Levontin, L. (2018). Study-work conflict in science and engineering higher education, Tomorrow's Professor eNewsletter 1674, https://tomprof.stanford.edu/posting/1674

Plummer, J. (2013). Educating engineers and scientists for the 21st century. JUNBA 2013. http://docplayer.net/13848999-Educating-engineers-and-scientists-for-the-21st-century.html

Orit Hazzan is a professor at the Technion’s Department of Education in Science and Technology. Her research focuses on computer science, software engineering, and data science education. For additional details, see https://orithazzan.net.technion.ac.il/ .


 

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