Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Should Companies Accredit Education?

The trigger for this post is a comment on Twitter - "in the future, corporations will be better accreditation bodies for H Ed than governments". Would they?

At the face of it, it may make sense. Aren't we educating ourselves for a job? And do the employers know best what is needed to get a job? For a good part of my life running For-Profit education, how often did I make a claim that the education my company offered is 'industry accredited'. In the UK, Pearson College wants to create such a degree, as they believe a FTSE 100 accrediting a degree has more weight than even a mid-ranking university. Not in the future, this should already sound like a good idea.

It already happens too. We may debate about the semantic of training versus education, but as far as learning is concerned, IBM Global Services, Oracle Education, Microsoft would all be big names if we went just by numbers of students that pursue their certifications and the revenue they generate. Why have they not taken over education already?

Frank Levy and Richard Murnane in their seminal 'The New Division of Labour' looked at the innovations at IBM's Management Training programme, Basic Blue, and Cisco Networking Academies, and pointed out how motivations for corporate sponsored education work. No doubt such programmes become innovative and efficient, but innovation and efficiency are not the only things in education. They highlight how these programmes were motivated and designed driven by immediate requirements or challenges the companies faced, which they responded to very well, but how these training programmes were solely justified as they met the immediate corporate requirement, not any distant educational goal. Also, if we accept the very claim our calls for changing education is based on - that everything, driven by technology, is changing very fast - education curriculum must take a long view and be broad, flexible and creative. Now, is this reasonable to expect the corporations, which, for a very good reason, make a virtue of specifying every recruitment requirement to the minutest possible detail, to really indulge in a broad education, which may include teaching on their competitors' products and critiquing their own business practices? If it is true that, 'the business of business is business', does it not preclude education?

Just as the nature of education is changing - it is becoming more about preparing to deal with an uncertain world than about having a certain outcome and lifestyle expectation - the industrial age rhetoric, everything is business, is catching up. It is not just misguided, but dangerous. Such claims not only get the idea wrong by a couple of decades, by trying to create an education solely focused on jobs, it pushes for further de-professionalisation of education. The big lesson for our time, as distinct from the 70s, should be that the different domains of the society, like the government, family, charities, need different operating principles: Not everything is business. Ann Colby and others make this point strongly, and argue for resisting the 'everything is business' principle in, of all places, business education, in the Carnegie Foundation report "Rethinking Undergraduate Business Education: Liberal Learning For The Profession". The "industry-accredited" may still make better marketing copies, but we may have already seen the limits of the model.

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